Douglas County sheriff defends deputies in New Year’s Eve ambush

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said Tuesday that his deputies did what they are trained to do in the deadly New Year's Eve ambush.

He said they used just the amount of force necessary to stop the aggressor.

On Monday, the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office ruled the deputies acted appropriately and lawfully in using deadly force against Matthew Riehl.

Deputy Zackari Parrish was shot along with three other sheriff’s deputies, a Castle Rock Police Department SWAT officer and two citizens in an ambush at a Highlands Ranch apartment.

“This guy was loaded for bear,” District Attorney George Brauchler said.

“He starts pulling the trigger against those unsuspecting deputies outside his bedroom door he’s got two separate assault style rifles, other ammunition, a gas mask and he hung blankets in front of the windows.”

Monday's report said during first contact with Riehl at 3 a.m., the suspect did not meet the requirements to be placed on a mental health hold.

“The officers were able to assess the fact he was able to answer questions he was able to have appropriate dialogue,” Spurlock said.

Two hours later, when deputies returned, Riehl was in a full manic episode.

Spurlock said despite given Riehl's background with post-traumatic stress disorder, his disdain for law enforcement and officers' knowledge of his weapons, the statute states the person must be posing an imminent danger at that exact moment for a mental health hold to be put in place.

“I think our statue needs to be looked at significantly. The statue of imminent danger is essentially is obsolete in my opinion because that imminent danger has to be there, now, immediately -- and so many times people come in and out of an unfortunate mental health state and when the officers get called at that time they’re in that imminent danger, at that state -- but when they get there and the individual has calmed down," Spurlock said.

Spurlock and Brauchler are supporters of Colorado’s red flag  bill. It would allow judges to seize guns from those who pose significant risk.

The measure was rejected by Republicans on a Senate committee. But Spurlock and Brauchler are hopeful lawmakers will revisit this -- and depending on the outcome of the November election, it might have a better chance of passing.

“We don’t have a truly functioning 72-hour mental health hold. We keep these men and women from being able to take the steps necessary to get the threats off the street before they become threats to you and me and to themselves," Brauchler said.

"Those are the areas where we need to start first. If the legislature refuses to take action to protect us, I will be there to hold them accountable."

Spurlock said deputies’ current vests cannot protect against all high-powered rifles. That’s why he asked the Board of County Commissioners for additional funding.

The Douglas County commissioners allocated $400,000 to the sheriff’s office. Spurlock said that money will be used to buy higher-level threat gear to include vests and ballistic shields.

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