Sheriff: Gunman monitored deputies before deadly New Year's Eve ambush

Photos courtesy the Douglas County Sheriff's Office

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (KKTV) - The gunman who murdered a sheriff's deputy on New Year's Eve sat and watched law enforcement on surveillance arriving at his apartment before beginning a "horrific" gun battle, said the Douglas County sheriff, who Tuesday released new details about the tragic events of that day.

By the time the shootout with law enforcement was over, Matthew Riehl had killed a young deputy, injured four others and two civilians, and lost his own life.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock said his deputies knew Riehl had access to weapons and were prepared for a difficult situation when they went to his Highlands Ranch home for the second time that morning on a disturbance call. But they weren't ready for what followed.

"Those officers suspected that they were going to go into a situation -- this guy wasn't going to be willing to go along as many of those cases are -- and so they were prepared for that, but they clearly weren't prepared for the onslaught of shots that were fired at them."

The deputies were met with a barrage of bullets.

"They were prepared for some issues. I don't think they were prepared to be ambushed in the fashion that they were. I don't think that they anticipated this guy was going to have that many weapons, that much ammunition, and have the ability to shoot them repetitively."

Knowing what he knows now, Spurlock said his deputies still made the right decision to go into the home and attempt to take Riehl into custody on a mental health hold.

"They did [do the right thing] because, you know, at some point we have to go get him anyway, and they had made that determination that he was in need of some severe mental health care, if not medical care. They went in as they do in many cases.

"I know that all four of them made the decision, this was the right thing. It was Zack Parrish's call; he's the one that says we're going to take him in on a mental health hold."

Spurlock said the New Year's shootout highlighted how woefully underprepared law enforcement and other entities are in dealing with mental health issues.

"That's where this kind of complicated quagmire occurs in law-enforcement. We can't throw him in jail [for mental illness] because he doesn't deserve to be there and it's not constitutionally sound or right or morally right. We need to provide him with some treatment. Where do we get that and who does he get that from, and then how do we make sure that he continues to get it?"

He says changes have to happen in the resources dedicated to mental health issues.

"Right now I have one deputy, one clinician and one paramedic and that's to cover 24 hours a day, 365 days. It's impossible."

Spurlock said Riehl had 15 firearms at the time of the attack, all purchased legally.

According to the Associated Press, who viewed Riehl's police and Veterans Affairs, Riehl's mental health issues would not have barred him from owning guns.