Friday, August 17, 2018

DA to brief "innocent bystander" Thomas Villanueva in fatal deputy shooting

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:43 PM

click to enlarge Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest.

The 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in a Feb. 5 shootout that killed a deputy will meet with District Attorney Dan May on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Thomas Villanueva, described by Sheriff Bill Elder as an "innocent bystander," posted on Facebook that his meeting will cover "if the cops were unlawfully wrong in some way."

Villanueva also tells the Independent the DA's Office plans to publicly release its finding about whether the shooting was justified that same day, Aug. 21.

A DA's Office spokesperson said via email, "We’re still coordinating meetings, so I can’t confirm a day, but it’ll likely be next week. And the report from our office is being finalized."

Thomas, his parents and other relatives and a witness to the shooting, Michael DeRossett, staged a protest on Aug. 15 in front of the El Paso County Coroner's Office to urge release of the autopsy reports of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, who were killed in the attempted arrest of Zetina by a multi-agency task force.

They also appeared outside the courthouse that same day.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court to have the autopsies sealed, citing grief of the Flick family, including Flick's widow, Rachael. There's no mention in Bux's petition of Zetina's family's grief. The Independent and Gazette have joined to oppose Bux's maneuver. A hearing is slated for Aug. 24.

click to enlarge Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police.
Meantime, DeRossett's wife, Heather, tells the Indy that what she saw that day at Murray Hill Apartments, at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road, conflicts with official statements made by local law enforcement regarding the task force operation.

Both Sheriff Elder and Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Howard Black have said all officers were wearing clearly visible police insignia at the time.

But DeRossett backs up the Indy's June 20 report that at least six police officers from the CSPD, Sheriff's Office and State Patrol participating in the mission didn't have on visible police insignia or give verbal warnings they were cops when attempting to arrest Zetina.
"It looked like a gang fight in the beginning," she says. "I saw a group of guys in plaid shirts. They didn’t yell out 'police' or anything. I saw them go after that one kid, and they were surrounding him. They threw him down on the ground, handcuffed him, and I saw five or six of them in a circle around him and [they] started shooting and shooting. They looked like they were holding him down, with his hands behind his back. I seen them fire. Like I said, I thought it was a gang fight, so I grabbed my kids."

DeRossett observed the shooting from her second-story apartment window about two car lengths from the action, she says. She also says a neighbor told her that Zetina had pounded on a woman's door just before the shooting happened, saying, "Somebody's after me. Somebody's after me." DeRossett says she didn't see Zetina pull a gun or fire any shots.

"He thought it was a gang, too, because they weren't wearing anything that says they were officers," Heather DeRossett says.

Heather DeRossett says the first officer insignia she saw was worn by SWAT officers who arrived two to three minutes after the shooting started.

Her husband, Michael, provided the Indy a photograph taken that day of Flick lying on the ground, wearing a plaid shirt, and another officer in a plaid shirt standing over him. Two other officers in uniform were knelt beside the fallen officer.

Heather DeRossett says she didn't know Thomas had been shot until after she returned to her apartment several minutes later after having grabbed her kids and fled into the hall because "bullets were flying everywhere." Then she noticed he was lying in the street.

Villanueva tells the Indy he was returning from a restaurant on the east side of Murray when he saw about six people, but no police uniforms. "They kept looking my way," he says in a Facebook message. He proceeded westbound in the parking lot where the lot makes an L turn. "Right away, shots fired," he says.
click to enlarge Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed.
Villanueva has filed a notice of claim with the county and other agencies, a required step that preceeds a lawsuit. No other notices of claim have been filed with the county regarding the Feb. 5 shooting incident.

There's no word if or when the police investigative report will be released to the public. Although the CSPD and Sheriff's Office participated in the shooting, both agencies had a hand in investigating the incident and submitted a report to the DA's Office on April 13.

The Indy's June 20 investigative story and subsequent story about officer-involved shootings, based on interviews with witnesses and officers at the scene and those familiar with the shooting, reported there's no evidence the task force trained together on auto-theft operations, that higher-ups in all three departments were concerned with officers pointing guns at people and that that led to officers not having their guns drawn when they approached Zetina.

Officers, who didn't want to be named, told the Indy that Flick tried to grab Zetina from behind, prompting Zetina to produce a gun and fire behind him, striking Flick in the neck. Three other officers also were injured in the shooting.

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