By Brian Maass
BAILEY, Colo. (CBS4) – The family of slain Park County Deputy Nathan Carrigan lashed out at the Park County sheriff in an exclusive interview with CBS4 questioning the February eviction operation near Bailey that left the 35-year-old deputy dead and two other members of the Park County Sheriff’s Office wounded.
“My son is dead and that is the only truth that has come out of this department,” said John Carrigan, about the Feb. 24 incident that resulted in the death of his son.
“It was unnecessary,” said the grieving father.
Corporal Carrigan was one of eight Park County deputies who took part in the attempted eviction of Martin Wirth. Investigators say Wirth, 58, an activist who had railed in online posts against his mortgage company, police and corporations, opened fire on the deputies killing Carrigan and wounding two other deputies.
Wirth was killed in the ensuing firefight. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has probed what happened and their report is expected to be released within weeks, if not days.
Leading up to that, Carrigan’s mother and father say they have numerous questions about the tactics and rationale behind the eviction attempt.
“I want to know why,” said Carrigan’s mother Melissa, “Why did they do it this way?”
The Carrigans questioned why the Park County sheriff did not employ a SWAT team for the eviction, given Wirth’s history of threats and an arrest the month before on Jan. 20 for eluding police.
Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener told CBS4, “We never use a SWAT team on an eviction. We never had any indication from his (Wirth’s) past comments that he was going to get violent.”
Wegener said, “We brought extra folks in” for the eviction. In his most expansive comments to date on the deadly eviction, Wegener explained what happened and what his thought process was.
He said the eviction was actually supposed to take place a week earlier but was postponed until Feb. 24 because Wirth had not been given proper notice of the eviction proceedings. Wegener previously called the Wirth eviction a “high risk” operation.
Wegener says deputies approached Wirth at his home on the morning of Feb. 24 and spoke to him before Wirth ran inside his home.
Wegener says after an estimated one to two minutes, he gave the order for Carrigan and the other deputies to forcibly enter Wirth’s home, “They asked if they should go in and get him and I said ‘yes.'”
Wegener says he has no idea why Wirth ran into the home but it was “presumably to ambush the officers.”
Wegener said Carrigan was the first deputy at the door and kicked in the door. After that, other deputies streamed past Carrigan and into the home said Wegener. Carrigan was struck and killed by a bullet that entered through his left armpit. He was wearing a Kevlar vest but Wegener said the shot entered Carrigan through an area on his body not covered by the vest.
“When he went back in the house, why didn’t they back off and wait?” asked Melissa Carrigan. “He wasn’t going anywhere. Why couldn’t they wait? My son would be alive.”
John Carrigan told CBS4, “My grandson is 7 years old and he would know not to follow someone back in the house. They should have just waited him out.”
Asked about backing off and waiting, Wegener said, “I guess you can always wait ’em out. I just thought they’d go in and get him.”
Wegener said he was unaware Wirth had a gun inside the home but conceded in much of Park County, “Everybody has guns.”
Wegener told CBS4 that before the eviction attempt, he and his deputies were also unaware that Wirth had shot and killed another man in 1994 in Fort Collins, although a jury acquitted Wirth of second-degree murder in that case.
Wirth shot and killed a 24-year-old neighbor August 14, 1994 following an argument about a chess game, according to archived media reports. Wirth was arrested for the death of Vernie Samuel Cox III. Media reports stated Wirth claimed Cox lunged for his .38 revolver when Wirth shot Cox twice.
Wegener said at the time of the February eviction attempt, “I didn’t hear anything at all about this 1994 homicide. I would have liked to have more intell on Mr. Wirth. But we don’t typically do a lot of intell on people we’re going to evict.”
Melissa Carrigan told CBS4, “I believe there was a plan but it was the wrong plan. Definitely the wrong plan.”
John Carrigan said, “There wasn’t a damn thing done right.”
The mother and father said they are supportive of police and have two other sons involved in law enforcement. But they say they are now exploring taking legal action against the Park County Sheriff over what happened.
“We need changes. We need deputies equipped and trained,” said Melissa Carrigan. “If you are going to put them out there make sure they are ready. Let’s just keep it from happening again… We want changes.”
“No family should live with this,” said John Carrigan.
The Park County Sheriff told CBS4 he has been briefed on the CBI investigation.
“It’s very evident after looking at their presentation that Mr. Wirth baited my guys in to ambush them,” said Wegener.