Release of autopsy reports concludes official releases in Deputy Micah Flick shooting 

End of watch

click to enlarge This map of the apartment complex lot was created based on incident reports of the shooting. - CSPD AND DA’S OFFICE
  • CSPD and DA’s Office
  • This map of the apartment complex lot was created based on incident reports of the shooting.
El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick was killed on Feb. 5 with a single gunshot through his neck, while his killer died after being shot three times by law enforcement officers.

Those conclusions are contained in the El Paso County Coroner’s Office reports released on Sept. 7 after Coroner Robert Bux petitioned the District Court in mid-July to keep the public records sealed, citing the Flick family’s grief and an open investigation, before changing his mind in the face of legal challenges from local media, led by the Independent and the Gazette.

Moreover, the autopsy reports didn’t contain much new information that hadn’t already been exposed in two other recent reports: District Attorney Dan May’s Aug. 21 report saying the shooting of Flick’s killer, auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, was justified, and the Sept. 5 release of the voluminous Colorado Springs Police Department report, which detailed the chaos of that day.
The latest released documents comprise the entirety of the official record to which the public will be given access regarding a shooting in which Zetina, 19, also wounded three officers — CSPD Detective Marcus Yanez and Deputy Scott Stone and Sheriff’s Sgt. Jake Abendschan — and paralyzed an innocent bystander, Thomas Villanueva, 29, from the chest down. (The Indy is still waiting for training records for the CSPD officers involved, previously denied. Civil litigation also could reveal more information about the tactics used, but experts say it’s unlikely such a case could succeed, and none has been filed so far.)

Though the CSPD and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office say they’ll conduct “critical incident reviews” of the botched operation, those findings will remain out of citizens’ reach.

“We will not be answering any additional questions regarding the Critical Incident Review,” sheriff’s spokesperson Jackie Kirby says via email. “[I]t is a working, internal document which will not be made available to the public.”

Likewise, CSPD Lt. Howard Black says in an email, “This is an internal review, no additional questions will be answered.”

Anyone interested in combing through the CSPD’s 907-page report will find ample cause for concern about the tactics used by the 10-member auto theft task force, organized under the State Patrol’s BATTLE program (Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement).

As the Indy reported on June 20, based on witness and officer accounts, the BATTLE officers didn’t have badges or police insignia showing as they closed in on Zetina, and they didn’t announce who they were and didn’t have guns drawn, all of which experts consider standard procedure when encountering a suspect in a potential felony. Most times, suspects surrender to cops who give commands and show who they are.
The procedure used on Feb. 5 is documented in the police report and contradicts Sheriff Bill Elder’s statement on Feb. 6 that all task force members wore clearly visible badges and vests marked as police. CSPD spokesperson Lt. Howard Black said the same at the time. Neither Elder nor Black will comment on the discrepancy.

The officers themselves, though, told investigators they didn’t want Zetina to know they were police until they jumped him with a “bear hug.” The plan backfired when Zetina pulled a 9 millimeter gun and got off at least six shots before officers returned fire, killing him.

Deputy Stone, who suffered a serious gunshot wound to his abdomen, grabbed Zetina as he passed him in the apartment complex parking lot, with Flick close behind. He says he said “police,” but Zetina produced a gun from his hoodie pocket and shot him before he could complete the command of “don’t resist,” according to the police report. Stone, who remains on medical leave, told detectives the normal procedure, used “dozens” of times by the BATTLE team, is for two or three team members to grab a suspect, after which other members pull out their badges and vests labeled “police.”

Only State Patrol Sgt. John Reindollar had his badge showing before the shooting started, the report said, and he was positioned behind a building away from the take-down scene. CSPD Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu told investigators that officers don’t want suspects to know they’re cops until they grab them.

So, the officers didn’t look like officers, and wore their bulletproof vests with “POLICE in three-inch gold lettering” under their flannel shirts or sweatshirts, which also concealed their badges hanging around their necks. Sheriff’s Detective Mike Boggs was the only officer on the scene who had no protection under his denim shirt when bullets started flying. “That day I wasn’t wearing my vest,” he told investigators. “I normally put the vest on when we’re about to do what we call a takedown. And that day it didn’t happen...”

That lapse could have cost Boggs his life. After the shooting began, Boggs recounted, “As I’m walking toward him — the suspect — I see the whites of his eyes. I mean, it’s literally they looked like headlights. As I’m seeing headlights I see the gun coming up at an angle toward me. I could see the end of the barrel… so I fired two rounds because it was aiming at me.”

Only after Stone said “police” as he grabbed Zetina did police reveal they were cops, according to Sheriff’s Detective John Watts’ account to an investigator. “As soon as they grabbed him, they were yelling police, police, police,” and pulling out their badges. Except for Sheriff’s Detective Trey White, who told detectives his badge was in “his back pocket” because he “didn’t have time” to pull it out.

Witnesses told police they didn’t recognize the men without badges and markings. Resident Spencer Nichols told investigators he heard gunshots “but never saw the police.” When resident Abigail Mason heard gunfire, she grabbed a handgun from her apartment and ran toward the shooting scene where officers said, “Police,” and “drop the gun.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were cops,” she said. By that time, at least one officers’ badge was showing, prompting Mason to say, “That’s what saved me from shooting someone, that badge being visible.”

Three officers — Yanez, White and Boggs — fired on Zetina. Others never drew their weapons, including Abendschan, the first to lend aid to a fallen Stone, telling investigators he wanted to avoid crossfire and “was not even able to take the weapon out of the holster on scene.”

Neither Stone nor Flick had drawn weapons when they tried to grab Zetina, though White told investigators he recognized the suspect’s elbow was flexed with his hand in his pocket. He thought, “Something’s not right,” he told investigators, but it was too late to warn other team members, who had broken off communications by that time.

After bullets flew, White rushed up to Zetina, who was on the ground, saying, “Don’t shoot me. I’m hit. I’m hit.” About 11:30 p.m., officers went to Zetina’s mother’s apartment to break the news. Although Monica Lopez wept, she told officers she had kicked him out months before because he was into drugs and owned a gun. “She stated that she knew that it was going to happen because he was really bad,” the police report said.

The gun at issue, a 9 millimeter High-Point semi-automatic, was traced to its original purchase at a Pueblo Big R store in 2008. It changed hands but police weren’t able to find the chain of ownership until it turned up in the hands of a Colorado Springs man who used it in a March 17, 2017, menacing incident. That man told authorities it was later stolen. Interviewed at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, the man bore a tattoo signaling membership in the Surenos Hispanic gang. Zetina had the same tattoo.

There’s been no comment by authorities about whether the tactics used in the Zetina shooting will be revisited, but, perhaps tellingly, the CSPD/Sheriff’s BATTLE task force hasn’t made arrests since the shooting, calling upon the tactical team instead.

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