Fam­ily of slain deputy sues sheri≠’s o∞ce

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

The fam­ily of a deputy slain in the Fe­bru­ary gun bat­tle with po­lice protester Martin Wirth has filed a law­suit in fed­eral court against the Park County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, say­ing com­man­ders were grossly neg­li­gent in mak­ing de­ci­sions that day.

The suit, sub­mit­ted Wed­nes­day in U.S. District Court in Denver on be­half of Cpl. Nate Car­ri­gan’s par­ents and Deputy Kolby Martin, who was wounded in the en­counter, names Sher­iff Fred We­gener and Capt. Mark Han­cock as de­fen­dants. It claims the pair should have known the threat posed by Wirth and that SWAT of­fi­cers should have been called in to evict the vi­o­lent man.

“The ac­tions of the De­fen­dants were not just a lapse in judg­ment or hon­est mis­take,” the fil­ing says. “Rather, those ac­tions shock the con­science and ex­posed Deputies Martin and Car­ri­gan to dan­gers that should have been en­tirely pre­ventable.”

The Park County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice knew that Wirth, 58, had made a litany of threats against law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers and con­sid­ered — but ul­ti­mately re­jected — mak­ing his deadly Fe­bru­ary evic­tion a “SWAT call,” Colorado Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion records re­leased in Au­gust show. Wirth had com­mented that any en­counter with law en­force­ment would be­come the “OK Cor­ral.”

Wirth had also said that he wasn’t go­ing to leave his home un­less he was dead and wasn’t afraid to take law en­force­ment with him, ac­cord­ing to state in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“While we’re dis­ap­pointed that they chose that path,” We­gener told The Denver Post on Thurs­day, “we will cer­tainly let the ju­di­cial sys­tem do its job.”

We­gener said he had not seen a copy of the law­suit as of Thurs­day morn­ing.

The lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Car­ri­gan’s fam­ily and Martin used the CBI re­view of the shoot­ing in their law­suit, cit­ing the doc­u­ments as proof of their ar­gu­ment that We­gener and Han­cock were re­spon­si­ble for the con­di­tions lead­ing up to the Feb. 24 gun bat­tle in Bai­ley.

The law­suit says Wirth was known to have a his­tory of vi­o­lent be­hav­ior to­ward Park County sher­iff ’s deputies, hav­ing posted anti-po­lice rhetoric on so­cial me­dia sites, telling a neigh­bor that he would shoot at sher­iff’s deputies and mak­ing the re­mark “I should just get my gun and shoot the first cop I see” to an in­sur­ance agent a month be­fore the en­counter.

“If there’s a war on cops, where’s the re­cruit­ment cen­ter?” Wirth posted on Face­book in Novem­ber 2015, ac­cord­ing to a screen­shot within the fil­ing.

The day of the shootout, Wirth re­treated into his home when deputies tried to evict him, the law­suit says, arm­ing him­self with a firearm. The fil­ing says the sher­iff’s of­fice had planned to fall back and call in SWAT if Wirth had re­treated into his home, but in­stead Han­cock ordered deputies to breach the house.

The law­suit specif­i­cally

Iques­tions that de­ci­sion, say­ing “SWAT should have been called and ac­ti­vated.”

What greeted a group of deputies as they tried to re­move Wirth through a rammed-down door, the CBI doc­u­ments show, was a ter­ri­fy­ing on­slaught of bul­lets, the glint of Wirth’s ri­fle scope or a muz­zle flash from the weapon and the screams of a deputy who had been shot sev­eral times.

We­gener and Han­cock “ig­nored their own train­ing, and na­tional stan­dards, in deal­ing with overt threats made to law en­force­ment by Mr. Wirth,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. Lawyers for Martin and Car­ri­gan’s fam­ily say the deputies lacked the nec­es­sary skills, train­ing, equip­ment and backup to con­front Wirth.

Lead­ing up to the con­fronta­tion, Wirth had spent years bat­tling mort­gage com­pa­nies to keep his home, but an evic­tion writ was is­sued in the days be­fore the shoot­ing and au­thor­i­ties say a no­tice had been posted on his door.

In the gun bat­tle, Car­ri­gan was fa­tally shot in the chest and Martin was shot sev­eral times in his legs. Also, Han­cock was wounded. Wirth died of 11 bullet wounds.

We­gener, in in­ter­views since the shootout, has de­fended his de­part­ment’s ac­tions, say­ing: “We knew there had been threats, but that doesn’t mean you turn tail and run.”

The suit seeks dam­ages for phys­i­cal in­jury, emo­tional dis­tress, loss of en­joy­ment for life and other pain and suf­fer­ing. It also re­quests “all eco­nomic losses al­lowed by law.”

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