Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Shooting victim Thomas Villanueva demands public records hidden by coroner

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:17 PM

click to enlarge Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting.
Thomas Villanueva, the innocent bystander gravely wounded in a Feb. 5 shootout in which El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was killed, staged a protest with family members and friends on Aug. 15 outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the 4th Judicial District Court to keep autopsy reports of Flick and an auto theft suspect that Flick and other officers were attempting to arrest, Manuel Zetina, closed from the public. (Zetina was also killed in the shootout, and three officers were injured.) Bux cited grief of Flick's family as the reason for his petition, along with an ongoing investigation. The Independent, the Gazette and other media have opposed the petition, for which a hearing has been set for Aug. 24.

"Public records — that's what they are, public," Tom Villanueva, Thomas' father, said. "What's going on? We don't know. But we need answers." The Indy published an exhaustive investigative report about the shooting on June 20, quoting officers and witnesses who said the task force that attempted to arrest Zetina gave no verbal warnings they were cops, didn't have badges or police insignia showing and didn't have their guns drawn. Thomas Villanueva was caught in the crossfire in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments as he walked back to his apartment at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard from eating at a restaurant across the street.
click to enlarge Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15.
Tom Villanueva questioned whether proper protocols were followed and whether officers had the proper training for what turned out to be a botched operation, which involved the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol.

"We need transparency," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing. We're waiting for the police records to be released. It's taking a long time. We're just waiting. We're here for Thomas, and to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."

Michael DeRossett, who saw the shooting happen, repeated his previous comments made to the Indy that police didn't identify themselves, give a warning to others or look like police officers. They were wearing "plaid and flannel," he said, not placards identifying them as cops.

"There were children out at play," DeRossett said. "There's a playground 50 to 100 feet away. There should be protocols in place to make it safe [to attempt an arrest] in a populated area."

He added he hoped the protest would help with Thomas Villanueva's "fact-finding mission," but added, "It feels like they have something to hide."

The police report, compiled by the CSPD and the Sheriff's Office, the very agencies involved in the shooting itself, was submitted to the District Attorney's Office on April 13 but DA Dan May's office has yet to issue a finding of whether the shooting was justified. (State Rep. Joseph Salazar has said he wants to revisit a law that calls for independent investigations of police shootings.)

Other information — about who shot whom, how many shots were fired and the like — would be contained in police reports, but it's unclear if those will ever be released.

Thomas, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound, told reporters he's having a hard time paying for his treatment, noting that Medicaid pays for only 12 physical therapy sessions per year. A GoFundMe page has provided some money but likely not enough to pay for his care and treatment, which will last his lifetime.

"They say I really don't have a chance of walking again, or get my bladder back," Thomas said.

His father, who was there with Thomas' mom, Sallie, said the shooting was life-changing for the entire family.

"It's been a roller coaster," he said, "a nightmare. We're caregivers now. We're glad he's alive. It's been life-changing, life-altering."

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