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