NewsDenver7 | Investigates


Prosecutors weighed criminal charges against deputy's killer weeks before shooting

DA explains why deputy's killer wasn't arrested
Posted at 1:39 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-07 13:36:23-05

Records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show prosecutors declined to charge Matthew Riehl with harassment against a Lone Tree police officer just weeks before he killed Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish III on New Year’s Eve.

The allegations stemmed from Riehl’s anger over a speeding ticket. Lone Tree police Sgt. Scott Vandenberg stopped Riehl’s car and wrote him a citation on Nov. 10. 

In the days and weeks after the traffic stop, Riehl requested and received video of the incident from the city of Lone Tree, then posted seven videos on YouTube ranting about what unfolded.

In the YouTube videos, Riehl claimed that the officer pulled him over, then ran radar on another vehicle while Riehl was stopped, implying that his ticket was based on another vehicle’s speed.  

“Scumbag! Dirtbag! Liar!” Riehl says in one video. “He's the Nazi in charge with the stripes on his shoulder and the fake badge.”

Public records show the suspect sent at least 18 emails to the Lone Tree municipal court and to Officer Vandenberg, claiming the ticket should be dismissed. 

In one email, Riehl wrote to the Lone Tree officer: 
“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 ass.”

In the emails, Riehl also referenced the officer’s home address and posted the same address publicly on a now-deleted social media account. 

Records show the Douglas County sheriff’s office began an investigation on Nov. 28 into potential criminal charges against Riehl for harassing the Sgt. Vandenberg. The Douglas County detective reviewed the videos, the emails and the tweets and concluded that Riehl’s actions were “annoying” but not threatening and therefore likely not criminal. 

“Given the email tirade and in watching the videos Matthew posted on YouTube while listening to his comments, he appears to be a troubled individual,” the detective wrote. “Nonetheless, he has not threatened anyone … Matthew’s behaviors and actions to this point, I do not believe, have risen to the level of criminal activity.”

The sheriff’s office then relayed its findings to the office of 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler for further consideration. Records show the DA’s office agreed Riehl’s actions were not criminal.

“We do not believe there is a likelihood of success at trial,” a prosecutor wrote in an email dated Dec. 14. “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.”  

Prosecutors also wrote it was important to tell the suspect to stop the communications before harassment charges could be brought, writing, “We have found that juries almost require that.” 

Just weeks after the decision by prosecutors, Riehl opened fire on law enforcement at the Copper Canyon Apartments. Five law enforcement officers were shot along with two civilians. Riehl was shot and killed by police. 

Deputy Parrish, a 29-year-old father of two young girls, did not survive. 

Hours after attending Parrish’s funeral, the district attorney explained why his prosecutors did not find cause to file criminal charges against Riehl despite numerous red flags about his unhinged behavior. 

“At the end of the day we did not have the information and the evidence we needed to file charges,” Brauchler said. “There was never anything that rose to the level of threatening someone’s person, their property, there was no imminence to the threats, nothing that we could act upon.”

Brauchler said even if charges had been filed, it’s unlikely Riehl would have been in jail to prevent the New Year’s Eve violence.

“If we were to do that, this is a guy who had no criminal history, he’s been a veteran. It would’ve been a low-level likely misdemeanor charge at best .... The court would’ve given him a bond, he would’ve been back out immediately. There was nothing that would’ve given us access to his home,” the district attorney said.

Brauchler said his office has taken a hard look at all of the evidence to determine if they did anything wrong in the wake of the Copper Canyon violence.

“I think that any time something horrible like this happens in our community, we’re obligated to ask every single question about what happened and could it have been prevented, and this is part of that process. But we did that, and going backwards, I did not see anything that we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done differently,” Brauchler said. “The hollow feeling that that creates for you as a member of law enforcement, a member of this community, is the idea that if we couldn't have done something different, how are we going to prevent this in the future?”