Local Government

Friday, September 21, 2018

Mayor John Suthers: Let us become the good ancestors to future generations

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 2:58 PM

City communications staff monitors Mayor Suthers speech at The Broadmoor on Sept. 21. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • City communications staff monitors Mayor Suthers speech at The Broadmoor on Sept. 21.
Mayor John Suthers, who will seek a second term next year, delivered a state of the city address at a luncheon on Sept. 21. His speech was packed with cited accomplishments, but also a warning that challenges remain.

Some 850 people attended, a record high for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC event held at The Broadmoor.

Notably, affordable housing and dealing with the city's homeless population top Suthers' list of items that still require attention.

While he drew applause for the "booming local economy," he noted that such prosperity has brought rising housing costs, and that Colorado Springs hasn't kept up with demand for affordable housing.

He vowed to work with nonprofits to secure federal grants and other means to spur developers to build more housing for lower-income residents.

"I am pleased to report that 485 affordable units have recently been completed or soon will be," he said. "While this is admirable, we need to step up the pace. I would suggest we make it a community goal to build, preserve and create opportunities to purchase an average of 1,000 affordable units per year over the next five years."

Suthers recounted major accomplishments in infrastructure funding — roads and drainage; progress on the City for Champions tourism attractions, including the Olympic Museum under construction downtown and due to open next year; and impact on the local economy of healthy educational institutions and the military.

But Suthers, who's 66, obviously is taking stock of his and the city's impact on future generations.

"It’s a tribute to our predecessors that even after 147 years and a population of almost a half million people Colorado Springs is the most desirable city in America to live," he said. "Our job is to ensure it remains so far into the future. As I say repeatedly, our challenge today, as citizens of this great city, remains the same that General Palmer embraced. We must continue the task of building a city that matches our scenery, a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. Let us also embrace the challenge and let us all resolve to become the good ancestors that future generations of Colorado Springs residents need us to be, because we are writing their history. Thank you, and may God continue to bless the City of Colorado Springs."

Read his entire speech here.

Suthers honored Chuck Murphy with a special lifetime achievement award. Both met with reporters after the luncheon - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Suthers honored Chuck Murphy with a special lifetime achievement award. Both met with reporters after the luncheon
Suthers awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award to Chuck Murphy, 83, owner of Murphy Constructors, with whom Suthers grew up. Both attended Pauline Chapel during their adolescent years, he noted.

Read more about Murphy's contribution to Colorado Springs, of which he is a native, here.

One of the more touching moments of the luncheon came when Suthers invited the audience to wave signs at every table as a tribute to Springs Police Officer Cem Duzel, who's recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, suffered in a shootout on Aug. 2.
The crowd was happy to send a group message to Police Officer Cem Duzel, who was injured in the line of duty and is recovering in a Denver hospital. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The crowd was happy to send a group message to Police Officer Cem Duzel, who was injured in the line of duty and is recovering in a Denver hospital.

This was one of hundreds of signs hoisted as a tribune to Officer Duzel. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • This was one of hundreds of signs hoisted as a tribune to Officer Duzel.
 
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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Monument rehab project stirs debate

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 4:09 PM

The Ramada Inn just outside Monument could be converted into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. - EL PASO COUNTY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE
  • El Paso County Assessor's Office
  • The Ramada Inn just outside Monument could be converted into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.
Residents in the Town of Monument area are revving their engines to oppose a plan to convert the Ramada Inn, 1865 Woodmoor Drive just east of Interstate 25, into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

But the land is already zoned to accommodate such a facility, county spokesman Dave Rose says. "A residential rehab facility would be an allowed use in that existing zone," he says. That means El Paso County's only authority over the project is to review the site plan, which is an administrative function, although a ruling could be appealed to the Board of County Commissioners.

A site plan includes placement of a driveway, fencing, lighting and traffic patterns.

Meantime, residents note the company proposing the project, Sunshine Behavioral Health, is one of several caught up in an investigation by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on what's commonly called "body brokering." This is the practice of disguising the financial relationship between a call center and a rehab facility, and then steering prospective patients who contact the call center to that rehab facility that shares ownership.

Here's a letter from the committee to Elite Rehab Placement, which is affiliated with Sunshine Behavioral Health.
This map, produced by N.E.S., Inc., which has filed the application on behalf of the rehab clinic, shows the location of the Ramada Inn. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • This map, produced by N.E.S., Inc., which has filed the application on behalf of the rehab clinic, shows the location of the Ramada Inn.
The Elite website can be found here.

Chad Daugherty, CEO of Elite Rehab, tells the Indy via email:
Elite Rehab was contacted by a Congressional committee and has responded to the request for information. The committee later held a hearing on the topic of marketing for treatment centers on July 24, 2018. Elite Rehab was not asked to be a part of the hearing. We are confident our business practices satisfy all legal and ethical requirements. We always act in the best interests of our clients and their families.
There might not be much county commissioners can do to stop the project, however, regardless of a congressional investigation, because the county must follow its own development rules.

Here's the development review link with all of the documents filed so far regarding the project.

If the county rejected the project based on a reason outside the scope of the site plan, it could find itself in court over alleged violations of federal fair housing laws. "There are federal fair housing laws that make it clear you can't discriminate against that use," Rose says.

That said, Rose says commissioners are apt to conduct a hearing to allow residents to vent their concerns.

No date has been set for such a hearing.

The property at issue is owned by a limited liability company, which gives an address in San Juan Capistrano, California, which purchased the property on Aug. 9 for $4 million, assessor records show.

In April 2016, the town of Monument agreed to a settlement with Colonial Management Group that paid the company $900,000 if it agreed not to try to open a facility in Monument, the Gazette reported at the time. Residents, who contended the clinic would draw drug traffic, pressured town officials to bar the clinic, and in 2015, the town revoked its business license. Most of the payment came from Monument's insurance agency, and the town paid $350,000.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Colorado Republicans mock sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 1:22 PM

Three state House Republicans took to Facebook to joke about recent sexual assault charges brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

On Sept. 15,Rep. Patrick Neville, the House minority leader from Castle Rock, shared a satirical article from Christian satirical news site, The Babylon Bee, that mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, groping her and trying to remove her clothing at a party in the 1980s when the two were teenagers. She also says he covered her mouth when she tried to scream, causing her to fear for her life.
screen_shot_2018-09-19_at_12.58.33_pm.png
Kavanaugh had been scheduled for a confirmation vote Sept. 20, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a delay in light of the allegations.

Ford originally said she was willing to testify, but on Sept. 19 her attorney said she wanted the FBI to investigate first — making some Republicans less willing to delay the vote past Sept. 24.

Shane Sandridge, who represents Colorado Springs' House District 14, was quick to join in on Neville's mockery, saying that Kavanaugh was also a cheater at "Duck, Duck, Goose" as a child. Sen. Chris Holbert, the Senate majority leader from Douglas County, added, "An anonymous source who may or may not have ever been associated with the Little League has allegedly stated that, at the age of nine, Kavanaugh's right foot did not touch the base when rounding second. #LifeChoices"

(Disclosure: Sandridge was appointed to the vacant House District 14 seat in 2017, beating this reporter's mother, Anita Miller.)

As of Sept. 19, the post had 22 shares and dozens of comments, many disparaging the three prominent Republicans.

"The time for believing women is now," wrote Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), who is running for reelection. "When our House Minority Leader and Senate Majority Leader jokes about sexual [harassment] and assault, it is no wonder why women do not feel safe working in the Colorado Capitol. A report from April of this year documented that 30% of folks at the Capital saw or experienced harassment, yet very few reported it."

Winter was referring to a report by outside consultant Investigations Law Group commissioned after a slew of sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers, including former Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), who was expelled from office in March. Winters accused Lebsock of harassing her.

Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party chair, demanded that the representatives apologize for their comments.

"After everything that went on at the Colorado legislature this year, it is outrageous that three members of the GOP caucus — including two in leadership — thought it was appropriate to mock a credible accusation of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh," she is quoted in a Sept. 19 release. "The people of Colorado deserve an apology from these lawmakers who apparently think sexual assault is a laughing matter."

All three representatives are up for reelection in November. Neville faces Democrat Danielle Kombo, Sandridge faces Democrat Paul Haddick, and Holbert will run against Democrat Julia Varnell-Sarjeant and Steve Peterson, an independent.

Notably, on his campaign website, Sandridge touts his experience as a "clinical psychotherapist working with many teenagers and adults with major depression disorder and suicidal ideations."
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Monday, September 17, 2018

Colorado Springs Utilities chooses new CEO

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 4:43 PM

Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO.
Monday, Sept. 17, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to offer the energy supply general manager, Aram Benyamin, a contract as the new CEO of the $2 billion enterprise.

Benyamin would replace Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO.

He came to Utilities in 2015 from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power after he was ousted the previous year due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. He also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor.

Benyamin tells the Independent that he will accept the offer, although details are being worked out, including the salary. Forte was paid $447,175 a year.

Benyamin will take his cues on major policy issues from the Utilities Board but does have thoughts on power supply, water rights and other issues involving the four services offered by Utilities: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.
Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair.
He says he hopes to see more options emerge for Drake Power Plant, a downtown coal-fired plant that's been targeted for retirement in 2035. That's way too late, according to some residents who have pushed for an earlier decommissioning date.

"Along the way, we talked about transmission upgrades that will allow us to import more energy that will make it more reliable," Benyamin says. Noting the city has employees who assess power costs round-the-clock, he adds, "Because of the city’s size and the importance of having your own sustained generation, we look at opportunities on the market to bring in energy if it’s cheaper or generate our own if it’s cheaper. The problem with transmission coming in is, if there’s congestion the price goes up and its uneconomical to import."

Benyamin will have to walk a fine line between traditional fossil fuels, supported by some on the Utilities Board as the cheapest source of power, and renewables, which also have support on the board.

Regardless of President Donald Trump's push to remove pollution requirements from coal to prop up the coal business, Benyamin says those policies haven't affected the direction Utilities is moving, which is toward more renewables.

Utilities has been slower than some to embrace solar and wind, because of the price point, but Benyamin says prices are going down. "Every time we put out an RFP [request for proposals] the prices are less," he says, adding that renewables will play a key role in replacing Drake's generation capacity, which at present provides a quarter to a third of the city's power.

While sources are studied, he says the city is moving ahead with "rewiring the system" to prepare for shutting down the plant. But he predicted a new source of generation will be necessary.
This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first.
Though he acknowledged he's not fully versed in Utilities' water issues, he says it's his goal to "serve the city first."

"Any resources we have we need to prioritize them to the need of the city today and the future growth and then decide what level of support we can give to anybody else," he says.

The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee earlier this year called for lowering the cost of water and wastewater service for outsiders — notably bedroom communities outside the city limits which are running lower on water or face water contamination issues.

Benyamin also says he's open to further studying reuse of water. "Any chance we have to recycle water or use gray water for irrigation or any other use that would take pressure off our supplies, that’s always a great idea to look into," he says.

Asked for his take on policies that reduce development costs at the expense of residential customers, Benyamin repeats his unfamiliarity with some policies but adds, "My approach to economic development has to be put in the context of overall benefit to the city. I look at it from a broader perspective. What you call a subsidy I might call a development opportunity."
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Friday, September 14, 2018

County's Dave Rose retires after 40+ years in the information business

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 4:10 PM

Rose: Heading for retirement. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF EL PASO COUNTY
  • Photos courtesy of El Paso County
  • Rose: Heading for retirement.
This isn't an obituary or anything, but on the momentous occasion of the retirement of Dave Rose, it's worth taking note of his long service to the community in more ways than one.

I first became aware of who Dave Rose was in the mid-1990s when I was working for the daily newspaper and had just produced a story raising questions about Colorado Springs Utilities' payments to his boss, former Colorado Springs mayor Harry Hoth, who owned KRDO TV where Rose worked as news director.

Rose was in my face demanding answers to questions about why I had suggested anything untoward in the Utilities deal, which would pay Hoth $500,000 for right-of-way to accommodate a water project.

Which is to say, Rose can be passionate about what he does, whether in the journalism world, or as public information officer for El Paso County, a position he held for 10 years and from which he soon will step down.

Lots of journalists transition from news to public relations, and Rose did so flawlessly. For journalists, it's somewhat of an advantage to deal with former journalists in the PR world. One hopes they recall their own days trying to squeeze information from public agencies.

Parsell: Picking up where Rose left off.
  • Parsell: Picking up where Rose left off.
That said, Rose was always fiercely loyal to his employer. He's adeptly kept the heat off commissioners at times, while providing information to reporters when they ask. He's become a skilled spin doctor, in other words, without sacrificing credibility.

It wasn't an easy gig. Rose has had to be anywhere and everywhere, such as coordinating information during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 (he helped set up and oversee the Disaster Recovery Center) and the Black Forest Fire in 2013. He was also there early on snowy mornings advising about road conditions, traveling with commissioners to various conferences, and other meetings, and explaining or defending commissioners' actions.  He served in ancillary roles too, such as on the board of the El Paso-Teller 911 Authority, and was a board member of the National Association of Broadcasters and National Association of County Information Officers.

Anyway, Rose's days as the county's spokesperson will end on Oct. 19 when he relinquishes the reins to Ryan Parsell, who worked as PIO for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office from 2013 to 2017, after which he served as deputy state treasurer. His salary will be $110,000.

Rose himself issued the news release, in which County Administrator Henry Yankowski is quoted as saying, "Ryan brings a broad range of experience in public communications, legislative and policy development and organizational management in private, public and non-profit sectors.”

So after more than 30 years in radio and television news, and another 10 with the county, Rose is calling is quits. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but I, for one, am really going to miss Dave. 
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Monday, September 10, 2018

UPDATE: Regional Building Department asked to donate $200,000 to Salvation Army

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 1:33 PM

Children's Hospital as it appeared last year under construction in the north part of Colorado Springs. It received $150,000 from RBD. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Children's Hospital as it appeared last year under construction in the north part of Colorado Springs. It received $150,000 from RBD.

UPDATE: To be clear, the $200,000 request is for updates and renovation at the Salvation Army Shelter and Services at R.J. Montgomery, 709 S. Sierra Madre ST., not a facility on Weber Street.

————ORIGINAL POST 1: 33 P.M. MONDAY, SEPT. 10, 2018————————

A recovering economy and a devastating July 2016 hail storm pumped the coffers at Pikes Peak Regional Building to overflowing with money from inspection and building fees.

Feeling flush, RBD officials gave away nearly $1 million during 2016 and 2017 without any guidelines on how the money would be disseminated. When those give-aways became public, and not everyone was thrilled with the practice, RBD decided to put their philanthropic activities on ice until a policy was adopted.
Jill Gaebler: More information is needed. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Jill Gaebler: More information is needed.

RBD is sitting on a reserve of some $10 million, not including $3.1 million it has from the sale of a downtown property.

Now, still lacking a policy, the Regional Building Commission is set to approve a $200,000 request by Salvation Army to expand its homeless shelter at 709 S. Sierra Madre St. South Weber Street by about 300 beds. (That's only part of the cost; another $250,000 came from a federal block grant program and $200,000 from another donor.)
A draft policy has been reviewed by both the Regional Building Advisory Board, and the panel it advises, the Regional Building Commission, comprised of Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand, Green Mountain Falls Town Trustee Tyler Stevens and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.

But the agency won't release the document. Although it's been placed on an overhead projector at meetings of the advisory board and building commission, RBD attorney Jina Koultchizka says she won't share it beyond that. Basically, the criteria for those seeking a donation: limit requests to nonprofits, require the request to be directly related to the building industry and require the project benefit El Paso County.
Commissioner Waller has repeatedly said he wants the policy to be circulated among all seven members of RBD, which includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Palmer Lake and El Paso County.

Toward that end, he, for one, is making sure the item is scheduled for discussion by the Board of County Commissioners sometime this month, he says. "If my colleagues have issues, then, we'll go from there," he says. "I want it to be out there. I don't want anybody saying, 'We didn't know about it,' that we're not being transparent. And, we want to make sure we do it correctly."
But as Strand tells the Indy, "I would suggest we don’t have to get permission from other organizations. That’s why we have a commission to make decisions in the best interest of the organization."

RBD meetings are generally held on weekdays during the hours most people are at work.

Jill Gaebler, Strand's colleague on City Council, is perturbed about al
Tom Strand: Wants approval of a new donation. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Tom Strand: Wants approval of a new donation.
l this, saying she and others have had a hard time getting information from Strand about RBD. "He should represent the body [City Council] on that board, not his own opinion," she says, adding Strand doesn't give the Council the straight skinny, or any skinny, about what's happening at RBD.

Strand disputes that, saying, "I’ve been sharing everything with City Council. Much like [Colorado Springs] Utilities, we have a couple of members who think money shouldn’t go to anything other than what the organization was designed for." (He was referring to opposition from some Utilities Board members for payments made by the utility to nonprofits as "community partners.")

Asked if he would give the Indy a copy of the draft donations policy, Strand said, "I won’t give you a copy with her [Koultchizka] fighting it. I have provided it to all members of City Council... The public should attend our meetings. They’re open. You can be there, anybody can be there."

He also suggested the Indy acquire a copy from the RBD Commission president, Tyler Stevens, who didn't return the Indy's phone call.

Meantime, Strand wants to push ahead with the Salvation Army donation, regardless of the status of a donations policy, so that adding extra homeless beds isn't delayed.

Mark Waller: Wants to vet the donations policy. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Mark Waller: Wants to vet the donations policy.
But then, it's possible both the donations policy and the Salvation Army donation will be approved considered on the same day.

RBD Building Official Roger Lovell says he expects both matters to be addressed on the Sept. 19 agenda for the Advisory Board's consideration. Lovell also says the donations proposal has been sent to all member governments, who can then comment as they wish, although the role of the Advisory Board, comprised of representatives of each member government, is to vet issue on behalf of those agencies.

The Advisory Board's recommendation on both issues will be taken up on Sept. 26 by the Building Commission.

Hold on, says Waller. "I'm not so sure we're going to vote on it in September," he says. He also notes Strand was a big opponent of the give-away program, but now he is endorsing the Salvation Army request.

When the Indy first reported on RBD's donations, Strand said this: “How did we get so involved with charitable kinds of things? I’m going to look into it, I promise you that. There shouldn’t be any extra [revenue for donations]. I’d like to take a hard look at that immediately.” 
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Friday, September 7, 2018

Micha Flick autopsy report released by coroner in change of course

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 2:35 PM

Deputy Micah Flick was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 5. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Deputy Micah Flick was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 5.
El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux has changed his mind and released the autopsy reports for Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina on Sept. 7.

Flick, 34, died in a shootout with Zetina as part of the State Patrol's Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) task force that includes the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The shooting took place minutes before 4 p.m. at the Murray Hill Apartments at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard. Injured in the shooting were Sheriff's Deputies Scott Stone and Jake Abendschan and CSPD Detective Marcus Yanez, and innocent bystander Thomas Villanueva, 29, who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet from Zetina's gun.

Bux petitioned the District Court on July 12, seeking to have the reports sealed, citing grief of the Flick family as a reason. The Independent and other local media opposed his petition. After District Attorney Dan May released his report on Aug. 21 finding no basis for criminal charges, and the CSPD released its 907-page report on Sept. 5, Bux decided there was no longer a reason to seal the reports of the autopsies, conducted by Dr. Daniel Lingamfelter.

The autopsy of Flick, who was pronounced dead at 4:26 p.m. on Feb. 5, found that a gunshot entered his upper chest and exited his back on the right side. The bullet perforated the aorta, right lung and a rib. The trajectory was from front to back, left to right and downward. Flick suffered massive blood loss before he died.

The bullet was not recovered.

Zetina, 19, was shot three times: in the right chest; in the lower left back, and in the left arm.
The first shot was from right to left, slightly downward and slightly from front to back. The second traveled back to front, left to right and upward. The direction of the bullet that grazed his arm couldn't be determined.

The bullets resulted in perforations of the heart, left lung, diaphragm and the liver, resulting in massive blood loss and death, the autopsy report said.

Those conclusions were described generally in the DA's report and CSPD report released in recent weeks.

The autopsy report for Zetina further noted his pockets contained a pack of Quaker Oats instant oatmeal, two cell phones, a partially smoked, possible marijuana cigarette and a glass pipe. He had a a tattoo of a cross and multiple names on his right forearm and another, "RAMIRO," on his left forearm.

The toxicology report showed positive results for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

Zetina wasn't pronounced dead until 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, but that's likely because that's the approximate time the Coroner's Office picked up the body from the apartment complex parking lot where light snow was beginning to cover the body, the police reports said.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

CSPD report on Micah Flick's shooting portrays scene of chaos

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 5:38 PM

"We do the bear hug and just grab him," El Paso County Sheriff's Detective John Watts told an investigator about an hour after Deputy Micah Flick was killed, about 4 p.m. on Feb. 5, in a shootout with an auto theft suspect.

"Immediately the guy pulls a gun," Watts continues on page 286 of the 907-page report, referring to the suspect, Manuel Zetina, 19, who was killed in the shootout. "The rest of us are approaching obviously at this time and a shot is fired and I start to draw my weapon.... I can’t tell you how many shots were fired then in a matter of a second, I mean multiple. As soon as they grabbed him, they were yelling police, police, police.”
Deputy Micah Flick - COURTESY EL PSAO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Psao County Sheriff's Office
  • Deputy Micah Flick

But the 10 members of the multi-agency Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) task force didn't yell police before Deputy Scott Stone grabbed Zetina. Nor did they have visible police insignia showing or badges displayed, according to officers and witnesses interviewed by police that day.

All of which verifies the Independent's June 20 account based on interviews with officers and witnesses, which raised questions about the tactics of sneaking up on a suspect and taking him by surprise rather than announcing their presence with guns drawn.

The long-awaited report was released Sept. 5 by the Colorado Springs Police Department, which investigated the incident although the CSPD itself had officers involved in the shooting.

The report about the shooting, at Murray Hill Apartments, Galley Road and Murray Boulevard, comes 15 days after District Attorney Dan May issued his report on Aug. 21 concluding no criminal charges are warranted.

Although May's report didn't assess tactics of the operation, it confirmed the Indy's prior report that Zetina was given no obvious warning that it was police officers grabbing him from behind.

Besides the death of Flick, the mission to capture Zetina after he was spotted driving driving a stolen 1999 Saturn resulted in injury to three officers — Sheriff's Deputy Scott Stone and Sgt. Jake Abendschan and Police Detective Marcus Yanez — and paralysis of a civilian, Thomas Villanueva, 28. He's filed a notice of claim, a standard step in the process toward filing a lawsuit.

Only three officers returned fire after Zetina produced a handgun, after Stone grabbed him. Those were Sheriff's Detectives Trey White and Mike Boggs and Yanez.
The suspect vehicle the task force tracked for hours before the shooting. It started out green but was spray painted blue by Zetina. - CSPD REPORT
  • CSPD report
  • The suspect vehicle the task force tracked for hours before the shooting. It started out green but was spray painted blue by Zetina.
Police Detective Phil Tollefson writes in his report of an interview conducted at 5:15 p.m. the day of the shooting that CSPD Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu, who with State Patrol Detective John Reindollar ran the operation that day, reported that "After the first shot was fired, he [Miyakusu] and Reindollar unholstered their guns."

Miyakusu also told Tollefson he didn't know the name of Zetina when they tracked him for four hours that day. (Zetina's record shows three stops for minor offenses during which he never attempted to flee or harm officers.)

Miyakusu described how Zetina rifled through the trunk of the car when it was parked in another location that day, appearing to be "frantic." But he added that "he did not believe he [Zetina] knew the police were there.”
Deputy Scott Stone was seriously injured on Feb. 5. - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Deputy Scott Stone was seriously injured on Feb. 5.
Later, at the Murray Hill Apartments, Miyakusu recounted to Tollefson that he and Reindollar "were trying to ascertain whether or not they were going to try and contact him while he was there, wait for him to go to the car or what."

When Tollefson asked Miyakusu if he had his badge displayed, "He stated no. He stated that when they roll up with other police gear, he said typically suspects look and say oh there’s the police. He said typically they are able to get close enough and grab the suspect. He stated he didn’t pull his badge out until afterwards and he had no idea what happened when the other officers made contact with the suspect."

Sheriff's Detective Stephanie Criss told an investigator that she saw Villanueva before the shooting started but the operation was afoot at that time and soon Zetina, who earlier was described as wearing a shirt with the number "13" on it, pulled a gun and started shooting.

"She said that as she saw the motor vehicle theft suspect reaching towards his waistband, she was thinking in her head surely that the suspect was not going to be pulling a gun," the police report says based on an investigator's interview of Criss. "She said that after that, people just began falling. She said that she was also aware that Detective Flick fell as well as Detective Stone. She said that she also saw this white male [Villanueva] that she had talked about earlier, falling right in front of her."

Criss described the scene as "chaos" and broke down a couple of times during the interview, demonstrating the emotional toll the shooting took on law enforcement officers. At least one other officer, who had blood on both hands after tending to Flick, was described during an investigator interviews as "crying and distraught."
Thomas Villanueva, middle, with friends before the Feb. 5 incident. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, middle, with friends before the Feb. 5 incident.
The first uniformed sheriff's deputy on scene after the shooting, Jason Haag, told Tollefson that he "removed the weapon from the holster on Deputy Flick’s belt, as well as the radio, and set them on the curb line nearby so medical folks could load Deputy Flick into the ambulance.”

Within minutes, dozens of police officers swarmed the complex parking lot and tended to traffic control, preservation of evidence and identifying witnesses.

Underscoring the potential risk to which the public was subjected by the task force mission, Officer Mario Aoki wrote in his report that while conducting traffic control immediately after the shooting, "two school girls approximately 12 years of age [were] returning from school [and] attempted to return home toward the Murray Hill Apartments. I informed the girls the access was blocked at this time." Officer Aoki called their mother who came to get them from her apartment, and then initially was barred from returning, although her two sons remained there. The family was eventually reunited.

Several witnesses described seeing "males" in the parking lot who didn't appear to be police officers. They described a hail of gunfire ranging from five to nine rounds.

Michael DeRossett told police "he did not see any badges or police insignia at any time," the report said. "Michael stated he only assumed the people outside and involved were police officers after the shots were fired because of how fast they [police] arrived on scene.”

El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court seeking to have autopsy reports of Flick and Zetina sealed. The Indy, Gazette and other media outlets are opposing the petition.
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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mayor John Suthers wants a second term

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Mayor Suthers: Wants to give it another go. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: Wants to give it another go.
Mayor John Suthers announced on Sept. 4 he will seek a second term in the April 2019 city election.

"I'm pleased with the progress Colorado Springs has made over the last three and a half years in addressing a variety of challenges and I look forward to continuing that momentum in a second term," he wrote. "At this stage of my career I'm focused on becoming a good ancestor, and when I examine all my options at present, I see continuing my public service as Mayor of Colorado Springs as a great opportunity to do that."

The mayor said he will make his formal campaign announcement in January but will begin organizing and fundraising for his campaign now.

Suthers hinted strongly during the Independent's July 11 interview with him that he wanted to extend his service as mayor.

But he also suggested there might be other opportunities that could entice him away. From that story:
Indy: Your commentary doesn't sound like it's coming from someone who's winding down a four-year term. It sounds like you'll seek a second term.

Suthers: What if someone offered me a job I wanted to take?

Indy: What job would that be?

Suthers: Very few. I have turned down several jobs in the last several years. You know, I think I told you I was asked if I wanted a federal judgeship. I don't want a federal judgeship. I had some discussions with the Trump administration. Obviously, I had a very short life on the FBI [director] short list. That will be a hilarious chapter in my memoir. But they came back to me on some other things, none of which could entice me away from Colorado Springs. It would have to be — whether John Hickenlooper is president or somebody else — not very many things. I think he's [Hickenlooper] going to run [for president]. I'm just saying whoever is president there's a few jobs I would be interested in.
Since Suthers took office in June 2015, voters have approved a .62 percent sales tax to fund road improvements in November 2015, which sunsets after five years, and approved a stormwater fee in November 2017 that charges all residents $5 per month and other properties based on size and impervious surface. That measure lasts for 20 years.

Among other notable moves, Suthers also promoted an overhaul of the 1988 annexation agreement of Banning Lewis Ranch, which was approved by City Council earlier this year, and led the city to sanction a land exchange with The Broadmoor that transferred the city's 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space next to North Cheyenne Cañon to the resort. (That matter is tied up in the courts as the plaintiff in a lawsuit, Save Cheyenne, awaits word on whether the Colorado Supreme Court will consider reviewing an appellate court ruling in the city's favor.)
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Friday, August 31, 2018

Colorado Springs gains 300 acres of open space in time for fall

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 6:23 PM

Looking northeast from Blodgett Open Space. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Looking northeast from Blodgett Open Space.

September is looking good for Colorado Springs outdoors enthusiasts.

On Aug. 28, City Council voted unanimously to purchase about 300 acres of open space for almost $1.8 million.

The first parcel, which expands the Corral Bluffs Open Space on the east side of the city by up to 246 acres, will cost $1.1 million, says Britt Haley, the Trails, Open Space and Parks Program manager.

(City staff will move forward with that purchase though Council still needs to vote on a supplemental appropriation next month, since the total cost came to slightly more than anticipated.)
Bill Koerner, of the Corral Bluffs Alliance, highlighted the area’s value for scientific research as well as its beauty. He said expanding "the Big Kahuna on the east side" would allow for guided hikes and other recreation opportunities that "are, we hope, going to come around the corner fairly soon."

Council also voted to expand the Blodgett Peak Open Space on the west side of town by 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500. That land, just east of the Pike National Forest, is famous for its sweeping views of the city.

Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) sales tax money will fund the two purchases.

“This is what TOPS was created for, and it’s so exciting to have this opportunity,” says Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

Here's what the two expansions will look like:

The Corral Bluffs Open Space will expand by 246 acres, for a cost of $1.1. million. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The Corral Bluffs Open Space will expand by 246 acres, for a cost of $1.1. million.
The Blodgett Open Space will gain 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • The Blodgett Open Space will gain 64 acres, for a cost of $778,500.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

UPDATE: Micah Flick's fatal shooting: law enforcement experts comment on DA's report

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2018 at 12:08 PM

The scene of a deadly shooting on Feb. 5. Were too many cops there that day? - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The scene of a deadly shooting on Feb. 5. Were too many cops there that day?
UPDATE:
While local law enforcement didn't previously respond to the Independent's questions regarding internal reviews of the Feb. 5 shooting, we finally heard back after asking again.

Both the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office conduct critical incident reviews of major incidents. The results of the sheriff's review will not be made public. The CSPD's review's eligibility for release to the public wasn't immediately available.

Sheriff's spokesperson Jackie Kirby said the multi-agency task force involved in the shooting was briefed last week clearing the way for a critical incident review to begin.

————-ORIGINAL POST 12:08 P.M. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2018—————————- 

While the innocent bystander seriously wounded in a Feb. 5 shootout that claimed a deputy's life might not prevail in a civil lawsuit, as we report in this week's issue, that doesn't mean the tactics used that day were without flaws.

To recap, Deputy Micah Flick was killed and three other officers were injured by gunfire, which also claimed the auto theft suspect's life and left Thomas Villanueva paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot through his spine.

The Independent previously reported the 10-member auto theft task force weren't wearing police insignia, didn't have guns drawn and didn't announce their presence before the attempted arrest of Manuel Zetina, 19.

On Aug. 21, District Attorney Dan May confirmed all that when he released his report that found the shooting justified and not subject to criminal charges.

That apparently ends the saga of the deadly Feb. 5 shooting, because the Indy can find no agency that's pursuing a deeper investigation of what led to the bloodbath that day. The Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol comprised the task force. The latter two agencies didn't comment on a subsequent investigation, and the CSPD didn't respond to that question.

But two law enforcement experts who reviewed the DA's report at the Indy's behest say standard practices, had they been followed, might have brought about a different result.

For example, it's always important even for undercover officers to identify themselves visibly and verbally when they "swoop" in for an arrest, says Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain and use-of-force expert who conducted investigations and reviewed complaints in force incidents for the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties from 2015 to 2017.
Thomas Villanueva: caught in the crossfire. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva: caught in the crossfire.

"On occasion," Meyer says in an email, "suspects have successfully claimed self-defense when they did not know it was the police."

There's some doubt as to whether Zetina knew it was the police who grabbed him.

"Proper practice," Meyer adds, "is to assume the suspect is armed until proven otherwise. A suspect with their hand on a handgun whether openly or secreted [can] point and shoot in ¼ second, as proven by research by the Force Science Institute. That is faster than anyone can react when surprised that the suspect is armed."

In the Zetina arrest, none of the officers had guns drawn, and Zetina fired at least six rounds before police or deputies returned fire.

"It’s good when the takedown (“swoop”) occurs to have a couple of designated shooter officers, properly armed, positioned and ready to shoot if needed, when others move in to go hands-on to make the arrest," Meyer says. "Of course, if the suspect is known to be armed, officers should tactically position to avoid cross-fire and then announce their presence while designated officers point guns at the suspect, another officer attempts to talk the suspect to the ground, followed by designated arrest-team officers to move in and control and handcuff the suspect."

He also noted that the "low 'hit' ratio" of the officers, who fired eight shots but struck Zetina only three times, could be due to many factors, among them being "they were surprised when the suspect started shooting, thus they did not have the time to position themselves and aim more effectively."

Meyer says dynamic, stress-inoculation training could change the outcomes.
Detective Micah Flick lost his life in the gun battle with a suspect. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Detective Micah Flick lost his life in the gun battle with a suspect.
The Indy could find no evidence the task force had trained together.

Another expert, Steve Ijames, former assistant police chief in Springfield, Missouri, who worked as an officer for 29 years and now serves as a consultant on issues of use of force and SWAT across the United States, agrees with Meyer's assessment.

Ijames says via email he doesn't have enough information about the Feb. 5 incident to conclude whether or not the incident was over-staffed, but notes that "the more cops on scene when gunfire starts, the greater the risk of 'blue on blue' shooting."

When officers worry their gunfire might strike another officer, he says, "That can dramatically increase deadly force reaction time, and reduce accuracy with fire directed towards the suspect."

Secondly, Ijames says, "Shooting suspects have no aversion to kill. Cops almost always have an aversion to kill ..., which is magnified today with all of the fears of what happens after the shooting (media, agency, rights groups, etc) running through their minds in milliseconds. All of this effects their accuracy under stress."

The Feb. 5 police report by the CSPD is expected to be released on Aug. 31. Autopsy reports of Flick and Zetina are being withheld by El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux pending a decision on his petition to keep them sealed from the public.

The Independent and Gazette filed suit to compel the county to release the reports, and other local media entities have since joined in the call. 
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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A deputy-caused crash, baby born in jail toilet, inmate's lost leg, and a brain injury among claims that could cost the county millions

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 6:58 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is keeping the county's legal department busy with a raft of claims that, together, seek millions of dollars in damages.

The claims include a baby born in a jail toilet, a man losing a leg for lack of proper medical care and a deputy allegedly causing a traffic crash that killed two people.

The Sheriff's Office declined to comment citing pending litigation. The Colorado Springs Police Department also declined to comment on matters in which it might have been involved.

Here's a rundown, in chronological order of the claims filed:

Andrew Townsend - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Andrew Townsend
Andrew Townsend submitted a claim May 2 regarding his May 18 arrest on a domestic violence charge that didn't pertain to him. He was arrested after being stopped for a traffic infraction in Colorado Springs and booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC). Townsend was not allowed to post bond due to it being a domestic violence charge until he made a court appearance, which never happened. When his father engaged an attorney, Steve Cornetta of Pueblo, Cornetta contacted the Pueblo County District Attorney's Office about the mistaken identity issue, providing evidence Townsend wasn't even in Colorado at the time of the domestic violence incident. The DA filed a motion to dismiss the charges on May 23, which was granted the following day. The claim alleges Townsend was "wrongly detained without probable cause and denied due process" in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Townsend was held for six days without being given access to a judge or legal counsel. Damages sought: No specified dollar figure.

Thomas Dole - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Thomas Dole
Thomas Ryan Dole submitted a claim May 25, alleging excessive force. On Sept. 21, 2017, Dole, who was being held on charges of second degree burglary and violation of a restraining order, was involved in a physical altercation with other inmates at CJC. As a result, he suffered a broken back and broken jaw. He was placed in a segregated cell and given a liquid diet due to his jaw being wired shut. On Sept. 24, he was given a meal that wasn't a liquid diet and might have contained food he is allergic to. After he argued with a deputy, several deputies applied "unnecessary physical force despite knowing" about Dole's injuries. At one point, the claim letter says, "a deputy intentionally and purposefully placed his hands directly on Mr. Dole's broke jaw and shoved it against the wall in the cell." His mother later sought a video of the incident but a county attorney told her the video could only be released to an attorney. The video ultimately was released to an attorney on March 27, 2018. Damages sought: $75,000.
 
Madelyn Taylor - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Madelyn Taylor
Alynne and Vance Hemphill submitted a claim on June 29 on behalf of an infant for whom they serve as guardians, called W.L.H. in the claim, who was born in CJC to Madelyn Taylor Hemphill on Oct. 11, 2017. This claim was first reported by the Gazette. Hemphill was being held on a drug possession charge in an isolation cell. Although she called for assistance from jailers when she went into labor, she got no help and "was forced into the position of giving birth on her own." The child was born in a toilet where she inhaled the water, resulting in a urine-based e-coli infection. As a result, the claims says, the child suffers from developmental delays, the full extent of which are not yet known. Damages sought: $387,000.

Don Woodson - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Don Woodson
Don Woodson submitted a claim on Aug. 8 alleging CJC deputies "negligently, wantonly and intentionally failed to administer the proper medical procedures and take [Woodson] to get the proper medical care." Woodson was treated at a local hospital for injured the claim says were caused by CSPD officers and for medical problems caused by CJC employees, including an intracranial hemorrhage, dog bite, broken ribs, multiple lacerations and bruises and the loss of his leg. Woodson had been booked into jail on second degree kidnapping and second degree assault charges. Damages sought: $15 million.

Survivors of Kenneth and Dorothy Wuerfele submitted a claim Aug. 20, alleging their parents were killed on July 24 on Highway 24 in a crash caused by Deputy Quinlan Linebaugh, who was driving a marked patrol car. When he attempted to pass, he struck another vehicle, which then collided with the Wuerfeles' vehicle. (Linebaugh was placed on unpaid administrative leave before he was later fired; he's since been charged with two misdemeanors in connection with the crash.) Damages sought: "To be determined at a future date."

Vincent Motley - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Vincent Motley
Vincent Motley submitted a claim on Aug. 24, alleging he was not given the proper care after the jail staff acknowledged that he was disabled. Due to the disability, he was placed on a lower level bunk restriction, which lasted from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 4, 2018, when he was assigned a top bunk. He then fell from the bunk and suffered symptoms similar to a concussion. He was being held on a charge of crimes against at-risk adults and juveniles — unlawful sexual contact. Since the fall, he's suffered from symptoms consistent with a traumatic brain injury. "Put simply, the jail owed Mr. Motley a duty, which was breached, and the breach was the direct and proximate cause of Mr. Motley's injuries," the claim letter says. Damages sought: $125,000.

All of the claimants are represented by attorneys.
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Cog Railway tax break should get voter scrutiny, Manitou Springs residents say

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 3:46 PM

Editor's Note: This blog has been updated to correct the names of plaintiffs.

Two Manitou Springs residents have filed a lawsuit, contending the voters should be given a chance to approve or reject a plan to provide a tax break to the PIkes Peak Cog Railway.

John Shada and Brenda Gillen BobSchaeffer filed the suit, which hasn't yet been scheduled for a hearing.

For background on the City Council's deal with the Cog, check this out.

The PIkes Peak Cog Railway is out of service pending an overhaul. - COURTESY VISIT COS
  • Courtesy Visit COS
  • The PIkes Peak Cog Railway is out of service pending an overhaul.
Mayor Ken Jaray says he believes Council followed the city Charter and Colorado state law in rejecting a bid to circulate petitions to bring a measure to the ballot.

But he's also concerned about the implications of any maneuver that might make the Cog's owners rethink the deal. The Cog is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who also owns the Broadmoor.

Jaray tells the Independent any delay could make it more difficult for the Cog to decide whether to proceed with repairing and refurbishing the 9-mile train from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak, which they've estimated at up to $95 million.

The Independent's founder, John Weiss, who lives in Manitou, has been involved in raising questions of whether the deal might be tested with a vote of the people.

The lawsuit states that the city clerk's rejection of the ballot measure was incorrect, because it didn't propose municipal legislation; rather, the referendum would ask Council to reconsider the ordinance granting the Cog Railway the excise tax break and if Council didn't repeal the ordinance in its entirety, Council would have to refer it to a vote of the people.

The lawsuit, disputing the clerk's contention that the ordinance wasn't legislative, noted, "When a previous City Council initially passed the Amusement Tax in 1971, it was exercising its legislative or governmental function. Any amendment or change to that is also legislative or governmental. The City cannot make it administrative or proprietary by simply saying it’s so."

Here's a news release from those who filed the lawsuit:
Two local residents sued the City of Manitou Springs today claiming that their petition for a referendum on a recently adopted ordinance to provide subsidies to the Cog Railway for the next 50 years was illegally rejected. In their lawsuit, John Shada and Brenda Kay Gillen challenge the claim by the Manitou Springs City Clerk that the agreement is not subject to voter repeal because it is an “administrative” issue rather than “legislative.”

Shada, a former two-term Manitou City Councilor, helped lead the successful campaign to save Waldo Canyon. Gillen is a writer and editor active in environmental and affordable housing causes. They are represented by local attorney Howard Morrison, a 52-year resident of Manitou.

Shada explained, “The Cog Railway agreement will be the biggest issue to impact Manitou Springs in our lifetime. Any decision of this magnitude needs to be made by the voters of Manitou Springs.”

Shada and Gillen are seeking a Declaratory Judgement requiring the Manitou City Clerk to allow them to collect the 223 petition signatures from registered voters to force City Council to either void the ordinance or to put the ordinance on the ballot for a binding up-or-down vote.

The Court filing explains that the ordinance in question is indeed “legislative” because it amends the City’s Amusement Tax legislation enacted in 1971.

“We are in favor of the Cog Railway resuming operations,” Shada continued. “but we just believe that six people, in 2 weeks of public process, should not be making such a large financial concession. The ordinance is an unprecedented deal — it’s an enormous tax give-back to the Cog Railway spanning 50 years. We’ve seen estimates that this will cost our tax base upwards of $61.5 million.”

“This unprecedented deal provides an enormous long-term tax break to a private corporation owned by Phillip Anchutz, the richest man in Colorado. No financial need was ever documented,” said Shada. Mr. Anchutz, also owns the Broadmoor Hotel and the local daily newspaper the Gazette, was reported have a financial worth of $14 billion by Forbes in May 2018.
Here's a copy of the lawsuit, filed by Howard Morrison, husband of former Manitou Mayor Marcy Morrison, as provided by the plaintiffs:
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Thursday, August 23, 2018

El Paso County coroner reconsiders sealing autopsy reports in deputy's death

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 3:16 PM

COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux might back off from his effort to keep secret autopsy reports of Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, both killed in the Feb. 5 shootout that also wounded three officers and a passerby.

Bux had said he was asking to stop the release of the public records due to an ongoing investigation and due to Flick's widow's grief. Neither of those are legal reasons for withholding the reports, but Bux was trying to argue that together they represented "a substantial injury to the public interest.

That excuse seems odd now given that an investigation into the shooting has been released that details both deaths.

In response to the Independent's question of whether Bux would proceed, in light of the District Attorney's report spelling out the injuries to both, Assistant County Attorney Diana May says in an email:
Based on a change of circumstances with the conclusion of the investigation, the Coroner's Office is reassessing whether a substantial injury to the public interest still exists. I hope to have an answer by the end of the day tomorrow [Aug. 24].
The comments come after DA Dan May released his finding on Aug. 21 that the shooting was justified and no officers would be charged with any crimes. It also comes a week after an innocent bystander, Thomas Villanueva, who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet fired by Zetina, and his family protested Bux's attempt to keep the autopsies secret.

Thomas Villanueva, his parents and friends protested outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15, demanding the autopsy reports and police reports be released. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, his parents and friends protested outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15, demanding the autopsy reports and police reports be released.
The issue arose when Bux filed a petition asking the court to seal the reports to protect the Flick family from grief. Read the petition here:

Here's our report on the petition.

The Independent and Gazette have since asserted they will fight Bux's petition, for which a hearing is to take place Aug. 24 for setting a future hearing.

There are lots of good reasons to oppose sealing the records, which are articulated in an Indy editorial by News Editor J. Adrian Stanley.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

DA: Deadly force justified in shootout that killed Flick

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 6:12 PM

District Attorney Dan May briefed reporters Aug. 21 about his findings of whether officers were justified in the Feb. 5 shooting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • District Attorney Dan May briefed reporters Aug. 21 about his findings of whether officers were justified in the Feb. 5 shooting.
Auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina got off at least six shots, striking five people, before officers  returned fire, according to a report issued Aug. 21, by District Attorney Dan May regarding the Feb. 5 shootout that claimed the life of El Paso County Deputy Micah Flick, injured three officers and paralyzed an innocent bystander.

The purpose of May's report was to determine whether the three officers who fired their weapons that day were justified in using deadly force, and he found that they were. His objective was not to determine whether the officers used reasonable tactics to effect the arrest of 19-year-old Zetina, who May said had been smoking methamphetamine prior to the shooting.

Much of May's report mirrors the Independent's June 20 account of what happened at the Murray Hill Apartments about 4 p.m. on Feb. 5 when 10 members of a multi-agency auto theft task force followed Zetina into the parking lot of the complex where Zetina lives. However, May reports that Deputy Scott Stone was the first to grab Zetina in a "bear hug" and was the first to be shot by Zetina (whereas the Indy's sources had said it was Flick who bear-hugged the suspect and was the first shot). Flick then wrestled with Zetina for his gun and was fatally shot in the struggle, the report said.

Meanwhile, none of the officers identified Thomas Villanueva, 28, as endangered by the imminent take-down as he walked across the parking lot from getting a meal just east of the complex. Villanueva was shot through the spine by Zetina, as proven by ballistics and DNA evidence, the report said.

All the officers injured that day were shot by Zetina, May reported, and officers returned eight rounds, three of which struck Zetina.

May also acknowledged that none of the task force members, from the Colorado Springs Police Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the State Patrol, were wearing visible police insignia, directly contradicting accounts provided a day after the shooting by Sheriff Bill Elder and CSPD spokesperson Lt. Howard Black. They said officers did have police insignia showing.

May also acknowledged, as the Indy reported, that none of the officers announced their presence until the instant Stone grabbed Zetina, which has led to some speculation about whether Zetina knew he was being grabbed by police officers.

Prosecutor Margaret Vellar, however, who reviewed the CSPD investigative report, told reporters investigators aren't sure Zetina knew he was being tracked by officers, but added, "It appears he did know."

May said the report concludes his investigation and that he knows of no other agency that is investigating the case.

Villanueva, who's paralyzed from the chest down, has filed a notice of claim, a preface to a lawsuit, and lives with his parents in Pueblo. He and his family and friends staged a protest on Aug. 15, demanding information about what happened that day.

There was no mention during the press conference whether the autopsy reports of Flick and Zetina would now be released. Coroner Robert Bux has asked a District Court judge to keep them sealed to assuage the grief of the Flick family. The Indy and Gazette have joined to seek the release of the reports.

Here's the DA's report, following by a map of the shooting scene at the time the shooting took place:
COURTESY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy District Attorney's Office
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