Inside the Matthew Riehl New Year's Eve Shooting With a Member of My Family

Deputy Zackari Parrish was killed on December 31, 2017 after responding to a call about Matthew Riehl, right.
Deputy Zackari Parrish was killed on December 31, 2017 after responding to a call about Matthew Riehl, right. Douglas County Sheriff's Office/Facebook
The weekend before the 4th of July, my wife and I celebrated Independence Day early at the home of Nick Rodriguez, her cousin and a deputy with the Araphaoe County Sheriff's Office. Friends from law enforcement agencies across the metro area were on hand, enjoying a spread of great American food and a brew or two, and like them, Nick was happy and relaxed.

Seeing this scene, no one would have guessed that just a few months earlier, Nick had survived a shockingly violent scene that made international news: the New Year's Eve ambush by Matthew Riehl, who killed Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish and injured four other officers at the Cooper Canyon Apartments complex at 3404 East County Line Road before being gunned down.

Now the world will know what Nick lived through: The 18th Judicial District DA's office has issued an officer-involved shooting letter that provides hitherto unreleased details about the incident (it's accessible below in its entirety). Included is an account of Nick's heroics amid what evolved into an impossibly dangerous situation.

The letter was written by Jason Siers, senior chief deputy district attorney, and addressed to Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher and Parker Police Chief David King, all of whom oversee individuals who took part in the response. It notes that at 2:58 a.m. on December 31, Riehl called 911 about a disturbance; he claimed he'd been victimized by a male who pointed a laser at his eye. During the exchange, Riehl is said to have maintained that the other individual was in the midst of a "mental breakdown."

Upon the arrival of Deputy Parrish and two colleagues, Corporal Aaron Coleman and Deputy Taylor Davis, Riehl reportedly admitted that he was the person who pointed the laser at his roommate, whose name isn't included in the document. At one point, Coleman placed his hand on Riehl's chest when he attempted to return to his apartment, prompting shouts of "assault" and "rape."

The report states: "It was apparent that Mr. Riehl was experiencing mental health issues. However, his behavior did not meet the requirements to be placed on a mental health hold under Colorado law." The officers left his apartment at 3:42 a.m.

Parrish and others would return shortly thereafter. At 5:12 a.m., Riehl called 911 again, saying he needed a restraining order against his roommate. He also told the operator that "he had weapons in his apartment, but they were secured and he would not hurt anyone," the letter says.

click to enlarge A map of the Cooper Canyon apartments. The circled unit is where the shooting took place. - 18TH JUDICIAL DA'S OFFICE
A map of the Cooper Canyon apartments. The circled unit is where the shooting took place.
18th Judicial DA's office
About five minutes later, Parrish and Davis came back to the scene, and the document reports that they heard loud noises from inside the apartment. When Parrish asked Riehl to come out, he refused. Before long, Parrish is quoted as telling Davis and a new party, Deputy Michael Doyle, that Riehl's behavior had reached the point that a mental health hold was justified.

Shortly thereafter, Parrish, Davis, Doyle and additional deputies Jeff Pelle and Dave Beyer were given permission by the roommate to enter the apartment, but with the warning that Riehl had rifles stored there.

Davis led the quintet into the apartment, carrying a ballistic shield in front of him; Riehl refused to come out from his bedroom. Eventually, Parrish tried to kick down the door, leaving a hole below the door knob — at which point Riehl opened fire.

Parrish and Davis were struck immediately, the report reveals. Pelle and Davis subsequently took bullets to the chest and arm, respectively, when they tried to pull Parrish to safety.

For his part, Beyer provided cover for the officers able to retreat, then sent this radio message: "300 Adam, we've got three officers hit, one down, two injured minor, person was shot with a gun inside the apartment still.... I need SWAT right now, I need medical!"

The time was 5:56 a.m.

In response to Beyer's call for help, law enforcement agents from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, the Parker Police Department, the Lone Tree Police Department, the Castle Rock Police Department, the Greenwood Village Police Department and the Colorado State Patrol rushed to the complex. Before long, a standoff developed that involved a sniper, the use of flash-bang ordnance and other tactics designed to rescue Parrish.

click to enlarge A diagram of Matthew Riehl's apartment. - 18TH JUDICIAL DA'S OFFICE
A diagram of Matthew Riehl's apartment.
18th Judicial DA's office
SWAT operators eventually gained entry to the building, but not without sustaining damage: Officer Tom O'Donnell was shot in the thigh.

What happened next is described in this passage: "Sgt. [Darren] Trujillo, Sgt. [Jeff] Engle and Arapahoe County Sgt. Nick Rodriguez quickly ascended the stairs and joined the rescue team in the apartment. Sgt. Trujillo fired into the ceiling to stop the suspect from shooting at the SWAT team. Sgt. Engle, Sgt. Rodriguez and Medic Richter dragged Deputy Parrish out of the apartment while Officer O'Donnell provided cover with a ballistic shield."

Unfortunately, help arrived too late to save Parrish. He was declared dead at Littleton Hospital. Meanwhile, Riehl was killed after other officers broke into his bedroom. The report says he was wearing a gas mask and reaching for a shotgun at the time the fatal round entered his body — one of four gunshot wounds he sustained.

The letter ends with this conclusion from Senior Chief Deputy District Attorney Siers: "After reviewing all the evidence and reports, I find that all officers acted completely lawfully in using deadly force against Matthew Riehl. Mr. Riehl posed a continuing deadly threat to law enforcement and the community. All officers acted in self-defense or defense of others. They were legally justified in shooting and killing Mr. Riehl. The officers did not violate a criminal statute. No criminal charges will be filed against any officer involved in the death of Mr. Riehl."

Plenty of them deserve accolades, however — including one member of my extended family.

Click to read the Matthew Riehl officer-involved shooting letter.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts