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Law enforcement debated filing charges against deputy’s killer weeks before ambush

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Angry emails and social media posts made by the shooter in a deadly attack on Douglas County sheriff’s deputies were well-known to local law enforcement.

They included aggressive messages not only to officers and deputies, but also contained concerning language that prompted administrators at the University of Wyoming to issue an alert about Matthew Riehl.

Whether police action should be taken against Riehl was considered after the Nov. 10 traffic stop that seemed to spark Riehl’s rage against local law enforcement.

In December, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office discussed whether Riehl should face charges over emails, social media posts and YouTube videos concerning the Lone Tree Police Department sergeant who pulled him over for the infraction.

After reviewing reports from the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office chose not to file charges in that incident.

According to emails from the sheriff’s office and the district attorney, a Nov. 29 progress report on Riehl’s traffic stop outlined Riehl was uncooperative during the stop, and afterward he sent more than a dozen emails to Lone Tree Municipal Court demanding the ticket be dismissed.

Riehl requested and received from the court the body-worn camera footage of his traffic stop that he posted in five videos on YouTube with comments about the officer who pulled him over, Sgt. Scott Vandenberg, calling him a liar, Nazi, lying scumbag and other derogatory names.

Excerpts of the emails sent to the court include verbiage that could be interpreted as taking on a threatening tone.

“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),” Riehl wrote to Vandenberg.

Riehl publicly released Vandenberg’s home address and pointedly wrote in an email that he knew where Vandenberg lived.

Riehl also wrote of Vandenberg, “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. I want your stripes and your pension. I want your house. But you can keep your wife and dog if you have one. I’m a better law man than you any day of the week.”

A Dec. 6 progress report recaps whether the incident qualified as an “attempt to influence a public servant” to get his ticket dismissed, and the detective writing the report, Philip Domenico, said it does not because Riehl doesn’t demonstrate “deceit or threat of violence” against any particular law enforcement officer but instead merely speaks ill of Vandenberg.

Domenico passed the information on to Doug Bechtel, the intake deputy with the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Emails exchanged between Domenico and Bechtel discuss grounds for declining to file charges.

On Dec.14, Domenico wrote, “I’m needing that documentation of your assessment of the Matthew Riehl situation. Some of the bosses here and at Lone Tree are anxious to get that report. They are most interested in why you don’t believe criminal charges are appropriate at this time and why that changes once Matthew is notified to stop.”

Bechtel responds, “We do not believe there is a likelihood of success at trial. We have to balance the suspect’s First Amendment rights (especially given the wide latitude since we are public servants) with Sgt. Vandenberg’s rights. Given our review of the reports, we do not believe that charges are appropriate at this time.

“One question you had was why telling the suspect to stop communications makes a difference. We have found that juries almost require that. Harassment requires ‘With the intent to annoy, harass or alarm …’ 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.”

After the Copper Canyon ambush on deputy Zackari Parrish and three other deputies, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said he believes the right call was made to not file charges because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to warrant the move.