Law student turned murderer escaped from hospital in 2014

| January 3, 2018 | 24 Comments

The Denver Post reports that Matthew Riehl, former University of Wyoming law student, who murdered a Colorado sheriff’s deputy on Sunday, suffered a “psychotic episode” in 2014 and was placed on a 72 hour mental health hold in an unnamed VA hospital after he absconded from his hospital room during treatment.

After that episode, Riehl had an “urgent contact for Mental Health” on July 22, 2015, and another “mental health assessment” on Aug. 26, 2015.

He skipped a Nov. 3, 2015, appointment and was called in August 2016 to “reschedule an internal medicine clinic” — but he declined, according to the report.

Riehl graduated with a law degree from the University of Wyoming in 2010 and joined a law firm. He opened his own practice four years later, but by October 2016, he had withdrawn his membership in the Wyoming State Bar.

The further you get from the scene of his crime, the more you hear about his time in the military. CNN even found it necessary to recount the Columbine massacre to it’s readers because of the proximity of the two shootings. The Post, however, reports that Riehl probably didn’t catch the PTSD as a result of his military service, in spite of his mother’s claims;

Riehl’s mother told authorities that her son had post-traumatic stress disorder from his Iraq war deployment and was refusing to take his medication to treat the condition.

Riehl enlisted in the Army Reserves in 2003, and in 2006 he joined the Wyoming Army National Guard. He deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from April 2009 to March 2010. He was honorably discharged in 2012.

His last rank was specialist, and he was classified as a medic.

Deidre Forster, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Army National Guard, said she wasn’t aware of any discipline leveled against him or any issues surrounding his service. She also said she didn’t know whether he saw any combat.

“I’m not aware that he did,” Forster said. “I don’t believe he did.”

Forster said he served during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 2nd Battalion of the 300th Field Artillery.

“I don’t have the name of the base where he was stationed, but I believe it was in Kuwait,” she said.

The bigger question is “Was Riehl flagged by the NICS background check system when he bought the firearms he used to shoot five sheriff’s deputies?” He certainly should have been flagged because of his mental health issues, which, by the way, don’t seem to be related to his military service. Not much combat going on in Kuwait for National Guard artillery units, or their medics.

Maybe he caught the PTSD from the Hunter Safety course his battalion commander, known as Powder 6, gave them while they were in Kuwait;

We’ve seen an awful lot of stories of people who should have been prevented from buying firearms because of their past and this seems to be just another one. We’re going to see more if they don’t get the NICS system under competent control.

Category: Government Incompetence

Comments (24)

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  1. Ex-PH2 says:

    OH, trust CNN (Clowndog Notnews Network) to provide any kind of psuedo-information possible, especially if it’s completely unrelated to the subject matter at hand.

    They have to do something to show how stupid they are, don’t they? Let’s do hope that they get lambasted for implying, even remotely, that this crank’s episode of violence had even the tiniest thing to to with Columbine.

  2. Mayhem says:

    Yah, He was an 11C.

  3. Hondo says:

    It’s not clear to me that Riehl was required to be reported to NICS based on his 72-hour hold in 2014. Absent some other disqualifying conduct on his part, there may not have been any reason for him to have ever been reported to NICS.

    The “mental health” aspect here is particularly difficult – and to me, troubling. Paraphrasing from the BATF 473: a person is prohibited from owning firearms if he/she (1) has been adjudged mentally defective by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority on the basis that they are a danger to themselves or to others, or as lacking the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs; or (2) has been formally committed to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.

    My understanding is that the 72-hour type of commitment Riehl underwent in 2014 is typically for observation. I’d guess that means that there was no formal determination by a “court, board, commission, or other lawful authority” that he should be involuntarily committed, and that such a hearing would be held at the end of that period if the shrinks felt it was warranted. Since he apparently wasn’t detained further, I’d guess that didn’t happen and that his stay for observation may not meet the requirements stated above.

    I also hold that it SHOULD NOT. Firearms ownership is a fundamental individual right, guaranteed by the US Constitution. Per the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, such fundamental individual rights may only be forfeit via due process of law. In particular, I do NOT want some local Sheriff, Police Chief, or Justice of the Peace making a permanent determination based on incomplete information – such as a phone call from the local hospital saying, “We just had a guy acting strange leave; we want to hold him for observation.” Why? Because the potential for abuse, on either political or personal grounds, is both obvious and immense.

    My opinion remains that absent a formal court proceeding declaring someone mentally incompetent and/or involuntarily committing them, they have not had the due process of law necessary to forfeit a fundamental right under the US Constitution. Fundamental rights should simply NEVER be forfeit based on the decision of some nameless bureaucrat or anonymous administrative panel. That degree of deprivation of rights IMO requires court action.

    I am particularly leery of allowing temporary treatment for mental issues to be used to invalidate the rights guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment. It is easy to foresee a world in which physicians routinely ask patients, “Are you feeling depressed or suicidal today” – and anyone answering yes is immediately reported as having “mental issues” to NICS and to their local LE, who then go to their homes and confiscate any firearms there on the bases of them having been reported as “mentally defective”.

    Couldn’t happen? Think again. As I recall, private ownership of automatic weapons was legal until the 1930s. Cannons were privately owned during the early days of the nation. Private ownership of both are in general prohibited today on public safety grounds. Further, other nations in the past have used specious “mental illness” declarations as a tool to compel desired behavior.

    In short: be careful what you wish; you just might get it.

    • @Hondo


      Lets all step away from that slippery slope. Once the “gun grabers” get their foot in that door …

    • Jonn Lilyea says:

      Yeah, well, he didn’t follow up with the subsequent appointments that might have ended in the determination as to his mental health. If he’d been listed in the NICS, that might have forced him to follow up, at least it would have prevented him from buying firearms in the near term.

      • Usafvet509 says:

        Point for Jonn, too, though. He clearly had issues. But, slippery slope

      • Hondo says:

        True, Jonn. But so would the VA reporting that to competent local authorities, indicating their concern for his mental health, and requesting that a mental competency hearing be held.

        I am dead-set against giving anyone but a court of law the ability to take away a fundamental right under the US Constitution. Religion, speech, voting, firearm ownership, anything specifically guaranteed by the Constitution – same deal.

        Precious few rights are specifically guaranteed by the Constitution. They shouldn’t be subject to the whim of some individual who may have a political agenda or who may be carrying out a personal vendetta.

        Firearms ownership is one of those few rights specifically guaranteed to individuals by the US Constitution. It needs to be treated with the same degree of respect – and require the same degree of court action to infringe – as both religious freedom and freedom of speech.

    • Usafvet509 says:

      You’re correct here in NO as well, Hondo. Spent 3yrs as both a psychiatric technician and certified medication aide for DMH here. A 72, or a 96 here, are not formal proceedings. They are observation periods.

    • Graybeard says:

      I’m going to go with Hondo over Jonn on this one. The abuses we see now by the “deep state” demagogues are just the tip of the iceberg they want to impose – and mental competency is one of the sledgehammers they’d love to use.

      • AW1 Tim says:

        Anyone else remember Feinstein and others calling for legislation that took away firearms from anyone diagnosed with PTSD? They wanted lists of names, addresses, SSN’s, etc, from the VA so asto be able to identify anyone with PTSD as another “broken veteran in need of help”.

        Yeah, I’m with Hondo on this one. We’re already too close to the edge of that slippery slope and unless we start dialing back some of these outrageous, and IMHO, unconstitutional gun laws, we won’t be able to legally stop that train once it gets rolling downhill.

    • 26Limabeans says:

      Concur. Adjudication under due process.
      Anything else is tyranny.

    • Duane says:

      There’s another little question that can get you on the list – when they ask if you’re having problems sleeping. Answer yes, and you’re reported for mental issues as well. Case in point – family member finally got a sleep test after repeated visits because of lack of sleep- and his numbers made even the examiners question his stats. Normal REM hourly interrupts are somewhere below 10 – his were in the couple hundred. Every hour. For this they want to file mental health issues, which could jeopardize ownership of personal firearms? BPAP and within 1 month numbers are normal, but if they had filed this, how long would he have had to fight to get his firearms back? I firmly agree – any, and I repeat ANY decisions like this need to be done in an open court of law, not just by someone signing the form.

    • desert says:

      Not many years ago the “dumocraps” AND the NRA backed a bill that would remove your weapons from vets for even a mental health clinic interview! That was BULLSHYT, I immediately canceled my NRA membership and joined Gun Owners of America…this rumor shyt does not get it, the law says “adjudicated” big difference!

  4. Luddite4change says:

    Story on the Involuntary Hold and Commitment process in Wyoming.

    Based on the 72 hr info, it appears that the judge was not convinced to detain the individual further, or the treatment facility didn’t believe it was necessary.

    I know you are not the expert on BATF 473, but is the mental health aspect a one way street? In other words if a person is ever involuntarily committed they are forever unable to acquire a firearm?

    I worked in/for a facility at one point, on occasion getting a court order was the only way for a person to get treatment, especially if the individual was juvenile.

    • Hondo says:

      Short answer appears to be no, based on the language of the form. The instructions for the form indicates that completion or release from treatment, or a finding that the individual no longer suffers from the condition leading to commitment allows the individual to possess firearms. It further states that such individuals may answer the pertinent question about mental issues/commitment NO.

      This is found in the section “Exceptions” to the instructions to question 11.f. regarding commitment to a mental institution. The form (Oct 2016 version, which I believe is current) is available at this link:

      • luddite4change says:

        Thanks, but its strange.

        Patient A is put in an involuntary program for 15 days, at the end of that 15 days he goes before the Judge, if the judge rules there is no longer a reason to hold the individual beyond 15 days, the individuals can answer “No” on the form due to the exception.

        • Hondo says:

          Hey, it’s a Federal form. “Strange” should be expected; making sense should not. (smile)

          Seriously – an involuntary commitment not being permanently disqualifying makes sense under some circumstances. One example: involuntary commitment to a resident detox program as part of a misdemeanor sentence/diversion that helps someone get and stay clean/sober.

          Personally I think it would make more sense to have a follow-up question or six to allow those situations to be explained more fully and accurately. My guess is BATFE didn’t want the headaches (and inevitable errors) associated with a complex set of follow-up questions.

  5. 11B-Mailclerk says:

    Too easy for the “angry soon to be ex” to report the sig-other as “suicidal” .

    Bad enough that the mere accusation of the pending-ex having been slapped is tantamount to a conviction, these days.

    I think we have to accept the occasional murderous nincompoop, rather than see the whole 2A go in the woodchipper of accusation=confiscation.

    Flip side, if you see genuine “nuts”, report nuts.

  6. rgr769 says:

    Surprise, Surprise! Another fake PTSD assertion by a family member offered as the explanation for a psycho committing murder.

  7. Mayhem says:

    Looks like he saw enough combat to earn the CIB. According to my source.

    • Skippy says:

      If the dates above are accurate I don’t know how he he got it, I remember these guys and do believe they were doing convoy support so it is possible a convoy was it but that would mean there VIC was hit for him to have been awarded a CIB
      But by 2009 there was a lot of CAB shopping with units

  8. I agree with Hondo on the general principle, and I like the idea of referring potentially higher-risk patients for a formal risk-assessment evaluation, and then a court hearing. If it could be set up so that successful follow-up with treatment leads to lifting the “no guns” order, that would be ideal.

    The law needs to be rewritten. The term, “mentally defective” is so vague as to be meaningless, and commitment to a psych unit is not an indication of dangerousness per se. The majority of committed patients are not high risk for gun ownership.

    Because the current law is so nebulous, you get stupid results like the VA reporting veterans deemed *financially* incompetent to the FBI for placement on NICS.

    Being at high risk to harm oneself or others with firearms and the capacity to manage one’s financial affairs are different competencies and should not be conflated.

    Senator Burr (R-NC) and others have tried to get the law changed for veterans on more than one occasion. They got 55 votes one time, but it was one of those Senate procedures that required a super majority of 60 votes so it did not pass.

  9. rgr769 says:

    According to a commenter on the S&S article, what precipitated this incident was this psycho wanting his “boyfriend” removed by the police from the apartment they shared, which the popo could not legally do, during an earlier call for service. He had also been reported to authorities as having a manic episode and being off his medication and refusing treatment at the VA.

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