Former Senate Candidate and Civic Martin Wirth Killed by Sheriffs in Foreclosure Eviction Shoot-out

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Martin Wirth

The scene of Martin’s death.

The news of Martin Wirth being killed in a shoot-out with Park County Sheriff’s deputies that left 2 deputies wounded and one dead is a tragedy that has left the Denver activist community reeling and mourning. Wirth’s home had been a flash point for foreclosure resistance over the past few years, and although the exact details of his death are unclear, huge questions remain about the circumstances that lead to his death and that of Cpl. Nate Carrigan. He was a loved member of the greater Colorado activist community who had been fighting in the courts to challenge the legality of his foreclosure and the Constitutionality of Colorado’s Rule 120 Hearings.

The media is painting him with broad strokes as an unbalanced “cop killer” to fit a narrative that places him in line with a caricature that is convenient for them to draw. Those who knew Martin know better.

Martin Wirth was a kind-hearted man; a generous, intelligent, critical and committed activist who offered his home to those in need upon many occasions. He showed up for Occupy Denver, he showed up for Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition meetings, he showed up for Black Lives Matter, he showed up because he cared and had a deep commitment to social justice in this world. He was a skilled engineer that founded his own company and was a candidate for the Colorado State Senate in 2014 for the Green Party. He received 25% of the vote against the Republican incumbent.

His comrades from Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition have put out the following statement, challenging the official timeline of events and the circumstances surrounding this tragedy:

CFRC member Martin Wirth, of Bailey, Colorado, challenged the legality of Colorado and national laws regarding foreclosures and the rights of homeowners for years. On Wednesday, February 24th, Martin Wirth, who resided in Park County, was confronted by Sheriff Wegener and seven other law enforcement officers intending to evict him from his home. Mr. Wirth and officers exchanged gunfire, with Mr. Wirth and Deputy Carrigan dying in the exchange, and two other officers injured.

Martin protesting the non indictment of Mike Brown's killers

Martin protesting the non-indictment of Mike Brown’s killers

• Sheriff Wegener of Bailey Colorado claimed in a Denver Post Article from Friday, February 26th, that the eviction they were serving “was something we do on a routine basis…We did not force a violent confrontation yesterday, Mr. Wirth did.”

• The same article states, “But on Wednesday, about a week after an eviction notice was tacked to his door, Wirth was out of options.”

• However, on Friday the week prior, February 19th, which would be two days after the eviction notice is purported to have been placed on his door, a friend of Wirth’s reports that they spoke at length to him, and that most of the hour and a half conversation revolved around how he would respond when he received the notice. Wirth agreed in the conversation that when the sheriffs came to place the notice, he would simply go inside his home and avoid any contact with them.

• Wirth shared in that conversation that he was planning to move out of the Bailey home once the notice of eviction was posted and spend some time with his parents in another state.

• The Denver Post reports that “Eight members of the sheriff’s office—including Sheriff Fred Wegener—converged on the…three acre property on Wednesday morning for what they termed a “high-risk writ of restitution.”

The public cannot know, except for statements from Sheriff Wegener, what the actual timeline of placing the eviction notice was, but it seems possible from the above information that Martin Wirth was unaware of any notice of eviction having been posted. We do know, however, that after or around the time Wegener claims that an eviction notice was tacked to Wirth’s door, he was speaking by phone to a friend about how he would be moving out once he received that notice.

The events of February 24th in Bailey, CO, are sad for those in law enforcement and for friends of Martin Wirth. Shouldn’t we all be wondering if the deaths of Deputy Carrigan and Wirth were necessary? And in asking that question, other questions are appropriate. For example, given Wegener categorized this as a high-risk eviction; and that one of Wirth’s neighbors, Rich Gabrish reported to the Flume newspaper in this article.

“Wirth had made numerous threats that he would shoot police officers if they tried to apprehend him or removed him from the property. Gabrish said he called the Park County Sheriff’s Office about 6 weeks ago to warn the department about the threats Wirth had been making. Gabrish said the officer he spoke with said they would watch Wirth and be careful.”

In addition to Gabrish’s warnings, Wirth reported on his Facebook page on January 22nd that a Jefferson County cop repeatedly punched him in the face and knocked two of his teeth out, and that Park County cops drew their guns on him. Should we not wonder then, why Wegener would seek to downplay the risk in this eviction, given the warning his office apparently received to the contrary and the recent confrontation Wirth had had with his officers? Per the linked article: “Wegener said that since the 2014 eviction had come without violence, there was no reason to believe Wednesday’s would be any different.“

In my history, when we talk about a high-risk eviction, it’s usually I need more help moving stuff out of the building,” Wegener said of why eight officers were present. “This should not have happened.”

With all due respect, Sheriff Wegener bears responsibility for how Wirth was approached. Given Gabrish’s alleged warnings, would it not have been prudent to make contact with Wirth, for example by phone, and discuss the timeline for his leaving the home peacefully? If for some reason the eviction notice Wegener claims was posted on Wirth’s door was not found by Wirth, as seems possible from his conversation with a friend days later, could this entire incident be the result of lack of communication? We likely will never know the answer to these questions, but we do know that a phone call to Wirth would not have needed to provide details or any other information about the Sheriff’s planned eviction that would have increased their risk; rather, it could have, in the best case, resulted in lives saved on both sides.

Sheriff’s offices across the country perform evictions on behalf of banks, but perhaps it is time we consider the wisdom in having them put their lives and the lives of homeowners on the line to take property on behalf of banks. During the height of the recent foreclosure crisis, banks would pay sheriffs to expedite evictions or even to do so on their own time. It is reasonable to reconsider this relationship between law enforcement and banks, and some sheriffs have made the decision to refuse to operate as mercenaries for lenders. Why not have lenders provide their own employees to serve eviction notices, a step that might further motivate them to work with homeowners who would prefer to work out a deal to stay in their homes?

Martin Wirth

Martin (left) Protesting Against Denver’s Urban Camping Ban

Martin Wirth was a man truly outraged that banks and mortgage servicers were allowed to take people’s homes, far too many of whom went into default not because they didn’t make a payment, but because the bank misapplied those payments. Others were told they needed to miss three payments in order to get a loan modification, only to find that the banks quickly foreclosed upon them after they had taken the advised steps. Wirth cared deeply for those who were losing their homes and was fighting in court not only for his home, but to expose weaknesses in Colorado’s quasi-judicial Rule 120 Hearings and the lack of protection homeowners could and should be able to count on. By all accounts in the media, Deputy Carrigan, whose life was also lost, was a man who also cared about his community. Inserting armed law enforcement into the relationship between bank and borrower in this case led to both of their deaths.

While Sheriff Wegener’s decisions are questionable in this case, why should he ever have been put in the position to lose the lives of those he was responsible for and risk the life of a homeowner so that a loan servicer could increase their bottom line? We should all be asking questions.
Darren O’Connor
Mikel Whitney
CFRC Members




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