PARK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A former Park County Sheriff’s sergeant has settled a lawsuit with the sheriff’s office after he was demoted following a shootout that killed Cpl. Nate Carrigan.
Carrigan was killed in 2016 while trying to serve an eviction notice to Martin Wirth.
Wirth was also killed.
On Saturday, Welles Tonjes sent a tell-all letter to CBS4 saying:
Two years have passed since the death of Cpl. Nate Carrigan. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends on this anniversary. I miss my friend.
A year ago, the firm of Benezra & Culver, P.C., filed a lawsuit on my behalf in the United States Federal Court against the Park County Sheriff’s Office. The case has been settled and I appreciate the assistance this professional law firm provided for me and my family. I thank you for your efforts, and for your results.
Prior to the February 24th, 2016 eviction, I met separately with Sheriff Fred Wegener and others about Mr. Wirth. During those meetings, I emphasized that Mr. Wirth was highly volatile and potentially dangerous. I also proposed a plan to the Sheriff that if Wirth refused to leave, we would simply advise the courts and request they issue an arrest warrant.
Since I was told others would be handling the civil eviction and there was no need for me to respond, I was in Fairplay that day, monitoring the radio when the shooting started. I responded to 36 Iris Drive. They advised me that Cpl. Carrigan, Senior Deputy Martin, and Capt. Hancock had all been removed from the scene because they had been shot during the civil eviction. They stated that Cpl. Carrigan had been killed and that Senior Deputy Martin had been shot numerous times. I was advised by three of the participating deputies that they had been told in the briefing that there would be no entry into the residence occupied by Martin Wirth. They also stated that they didn’t know why the plans had been changed after Capt. Hancock had spoken with Sheriff Wegener.
On February 26, 2016, I checked in with Undersheriff Gore. Undersheriff Gore told me that he was planning on attending the incident debriefing in Bailey, but he said the Sheriff told him not to attend. Undersheriff Gore then asked me to accompany him to St. Anthony’s Hospital and check on Senior Deputy Kolby Martin. While enroute to the hospital, Undersheriff Gore and I talked about the events that had happened on the Martin Wirth vicil eviction. During this discussion, Undersheriff Gore stateed that he had expressed his concerns about Wirth and how dangerous he felt this situation was. Undersheriff Gore told me the had given orders that, “no Park County Deputies were to enter the residence.” I was surprised to learn that Gore’s directive had occurred before I talked with Sheriff Wegener about it. Undersheriff Gore told me that deputies were to approach the reisdence and attempt to get Wirth to come out peacefully. If they were unsuccessful, they were to withdraw to the perimeter and call him.
We arrived at the hospital and visited with Deputy Martin. Deputy Martin appeared to be agitated and told Undersheriff Gore he wanted to talk to Captain Hancock and Sheriff Wegener. Undersheriff Gore and I visited with Deputy Martin for a while and left.
After leaving the hospital, Undersheriff Gore suggested that we go to Capt. Hancock’s house to see how he was doing. Upon arrival at Capt. Hancock’s residence, we were invited in by Capt. Hancock. A short time after arriving, Capt. Hancock began talking about how tragic the situation was. Undersheriff Gore told Capt. Hancock that he had heardd the radio call, he knew the Sheriff had ordered the break. Undersheriff Gore said that the Sheriff was responsible for what happened. It appeared to me that Undersheriff Gore’s statement to Capt. Hancock shocked him. We then left the residence and returned to Fairplay.
On the morning of February 29, 2016, Sheriff Wegener walked into my office. Sheriff Wegener stated that he needed to talk to me. I told him to come into the office and we could talk. Sheriff Wegener appeared upset and was angry as he closed the door. Sheriff Wegener informed me that tomorrow, March 1, 2016, when I reported to work, I would report as a Patrol Deputy and not as the Senior Sergeant. He told me I was being demoted because of two phone calls I had made. Sheriff Wegener provided me with no specifics regarding the supposed complaints, nor was I given a hearing as provided in PCSO policy and procedure. He did not give me anything in writing. I knew that when he demoted me, that he had violated my due process by not following his own policies and procedures. I informed him that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and would leave rather than take the demotion. Sheriff Wegener told me to leave all my PCSO property, and to write a letter of resignation and leave it on my desk.
Shortly after that, on February 29, 2016, at 9:23PM, Undersheriff Gore arrived at the sheriff’s office. Undersheriff Gore went upstairs to the command offices. After a while, Undersheriff Gore came back downstairs carrying personal items, I asked him what happened. He advised me that Sheriff Wegener had placed him on administrative leave until further notice. When I asked Undersheriff Gore what reason he was given for his administrative leave, he stated he had misspelled a word on a press release.
I was contacted at home by CBS Channel 4 reporter Brian Maass. After identifying himself he stated that he had spoken to Sheriff Wegener. Brian Maass stated Sheriff Wegener said, “This was something we had to address,” and reported demoting me because it “was related to the handling of how the deputies responded.” Undersheriff Gore and I were over forty miles away from the incident, in Fairplay. I believe that if the Sheriff’s Office would have followed Undersheriff Gore’s directive and the initial plan to not enter, both Cpl. Carrigan and Martin Wirth would be alive today. I have been approached by numerous individuals, and told that they felt w4e were scapegoated.
I hope that my efforts to share this information and present the truth have helped Nate to rest, and provided some closure for his family. His heroism and commitment to this community should never be forgotten.
I thank my family for their support and strength during this time. I thank my friends who have offered encouragement and support especially in the midst of all the turmoil.
I thank Undersheriff Gore for refusing to compromise his integrity, refusing to let the false reports stand, and refuting them….even when it cost him his job.
I thank Park County leadership for stepping up quickly, correcting misiniformation, and making a written statement that exonerated both myself and Undersheriff Gore.
I wanted to set the recod straight. I have done so. Now, I want to focus on my family. I would request that the press not contact me further.
Former Park County Senior Sergeant
Carrigan’s family and another deputy who was shot, but survived, also filed a federal lawsuit against the Park County Sheriff’s Office. That lawsuit is still pending.
It claimed the eviction operation was mishandled and negligent.
Wegener’s office hasn’t responded to our request for comment. He has said he will not run for sheriff again in this year’s election.
Monte Gore recently announced his run for Park County Sheriff.