DENVER – The family of the Park County deputy killed in February by a man who had previously threatened to harm officers has filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff’s office claiming the negligence of commanders led to their son’s death.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court of Colorado on behalf of Nate Carrigan’s estate, his parents, John and Melissa Carrigan, as well as Park County Deputy Kolby Martin, who was injured in the incident.
The defendants in the suit are the Park County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Fred Wegener and Cpt. Mark Hancock, who was also shot in the incident, though the bullet only grazed his ear.
The suit claims the “grossly negligent decision making” of the defendants “were not just a lapse in judgment or honest mistake.” It says their actions “exposed Deputies Martin and Carrigan to dangers that should have been entirely preventable.”
Carrigan and Martin were shot by Martin Wirth on Feb. 24 while serving him an eviction notice. He had previously threatened to kill police in the months before and had refused to leave his home in Bailey.
A report on the incident released in August by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, Hancock told investigators he believed Wirth would be “physically combative” and had said the office “didn’t really feel that it warranted a SWAT call.”
The suit cites the CBI report throughout in detailing the timeline of that day, and notes Wirth had said if he were evicted, it would be “a shootout like the OK Corral.”
Wirth retreated back inside the home, and Hancock grew worried that too much time had passed and that deputies were in danger. But rather than retreating, he and Carrigan went to the door.
The report says Hancock told investigators he didn’t know if he got permission (the lawsuit says the sheriff gave permission), but told Carrigan to kick in the door since Wirth had barricaded himself inside.
Martin entered first and was followed by another deputy. As he rounded a corner, Wirth shot him eight times in the pelvis and legs.
Carrigan was shot through the armpit as he breached the door, and Hancock was grazed sometime during the incident.
At one point, Wirth escaped out of the home into the woods, where he was eventually shot dead by Hancock.
Wegener said in August that his deputies “did what they were supposed to” and called them heroes. The suit says, however, that many plans originally made to serve the eviction that day were not followed, nor was standard operating procedure followed by Hancock or Wegener.
It says they “ignored their own training” and that the deputies lacked the training and equipment to confront Wirth that day.
Martin and Carrigan’s family are both seeking compensatory and special damages, and lost past and future earnings, among other things.
Sheriff Wegener told Denver7 neither he nor the sheriff’s office had been served as of 11:15 a.m.
“We’re sorry that the family has taken this direction, but will certainly wait to let the justice system work, and wait and see what happens,” he said.
Carrigan had worked for the sheriff’s office for 13 years and was well-known in the community after growing up there and coaching at Platte Canyon High School. His family first discussed their intent to sue with Denver7 in August.