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Douglas County

Law enforcement wanted to charge gunman before shooting

Attorneys believed Riehl was protected by freedom of speech


Law enforcement officers were actively searching for ways to criminally charge Matthew Riehl, the suspect in a New Year's Eve shooting that left Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish dead, for his behavior in the weeks before the shooting because local police considered it harassment, documents show.

A deputy also visited Riehl to determine if he needed “some sort of intervention.”

On Dec. 31, Riehl was shot to death by a SWAT team after killing Parrish and wounding four other officers and two civilians. Authorities say he fired more than 100 rounds at officers.

Investigative reports and email exchanges obtained by Colorado Community Media show law enforcement grappling with how to respond to Riehl's behavior toward law enforcement. Ultimately, a lawyer with the district attorney's office said it would not be appropriate to charge Riehl and doing so would potentially violate his First Amendment rights.

A Douglas County Sheriff's Office detective began investigating information provided by the Lone Tree Police Department concerning Riehl in late November. The police department reported Riehl was harassing a specific officer and the city's municipal court.

The alleged harassment began after the Lone Tree police officer issued Riehl a speeding ticket on Nov. 10. The detective's reports show Riehl was initially uncooperative with the officer, and although he eventually became compliant, remained on scene after the ticket was issued to watch officers in his rearview mirror.

Riehl then “embarked on an email campaign,” according to the detective's report, seeking to get the officer fired and have his ticket dismissed. Riehl also posted numerous YouTube videos about the incident, including a slew of insults directed at the officer.

On Dec. 2, Riehl sent three emails to the Lone Tree police officer. He sent 15 emails to the City of Lone Tree Municipal Court between Nov. 15 and Dec. 5. In one of the emails, Riehl wrote the officer's personal address, which he later shared on Twitter.

He also compared Lone Tree police officers to Nazis and refused to attend a court appearance that resulted from his speeding ticket, saying the court was run by corrupt officers.

The reports also show that as recently as Dec. 5, a deputy accompanied by a clinician visited Riehl to determine if he was “in need of some sort of intervention.” Riehl asked if the deputy had a warrant, and after learning they did not, the report says Riehl “replied that they had interrupted his movie and proceeded to slam the door.”

Emails sent between the sheriff's office detective, Phil Domenico, and an attorney with the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, Senior Deputy District Attorney Doug Bechtel, show officials debating if and how they could bring criminal charges against Riehl.

The detective considered charges for harassment, posting the personal information of a law enforcement officer online, attempting to influence a public servant and intimidating a witness.

Throughout his investigation, however, Domenico said he did not find evidence Riehl made direct threats toward anyone or their property — only that his emails contained “a lot of rambling and rhetoric” and that Riehl spoke “very ill” of the Lone Tree police officer.

Domenico provided his reports to the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office and asked if an email Riehl wrote to the Lone Tree police officer mentioning the officer's wife and commenting on Riehl's skills as a marksman finally warranted criminal charges.

“I should have your job. I'm smarter than you. I'm better qualified. I have combat proven medical training and I've practiced in Federal court. You are a fumbling lying perjuring buffoon,” Riehl wrote to the police officer, according to Domenico's report.

Riehl went on to say he wanted the officer's house and pension but told the officer, “you can keep your wife and the dog if you have one.”

The quote ends with Riehl saying, “I could drive circles around you and if it ever came down to it, you know I'm a more disciplined marksman than your shaking pathetic lying (expletive).”

In an email dated Dec. 14, Bechtel said the office did not believe charges were appropriate, stating Riehl was likely protected by the First Amendment, “especially given the wide latitude since we are public officials.”

Bechtel suggested telling Riehl to stop his communications could create grounds for harassment charges if Riehl were to ignore that request.

“We have an argument that when a suspect continues to communicate after a clear `Do not contact me' communication, that it is for the purpose of annoying, harassing or alarming. In this case, the defendant's intent seems to be to get the ticket dismissed,” Bechtel said after explaining pursuing the case in court as it stood then would likely be unsuccessful.

“We do not believe,” Bechtel wrote, “there is a likelihood of success at trial.”


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