Innocent bystander Thomas Villanueva filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 1, naming Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Sheriff Bill Elder, Police Chief Pete Carey, six deputies, two police officers, and two Colorado State Patrol officers as defendants, along with the estate of slain Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick.
The lawsuit comes on the eve of the first anniversary of the Feb. 5. 2018, shooting that claimed the life of Flick and the suspected felon, Manuel Zetina, at Galley Road and Murray Street during a botched attempt to arrest Zetina for auto theft.
A detailed outline of what happened that day, as well as allegations of lack of training by officers involved, substantiates the Independent's report of June 20.
Deputy Micah Flick: Died in the line of duty.
The shooting left Villanueva paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 28.
Named as defendants are members of the Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) task force, which is headed by the State Patrol and includes city and county officers. City officers named: Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu and Officer Marcus Yanez (who was shot during the incident). Deputies named: Deputy Scott Stone (was was shot during the incident); Sgt. Jacob Abendschan, who was hit with shrapnel; Detectives John Watts, Trey White, Stephanis Criss and Michael Boggs. State Patrol officers named: Investigator John Reindollar and Sgt. Chad Hunt.
The 30-page complaint gives a detailed rundown of what took place in the run-up to the shooting, noting that State Patrol Sgt. Hunt, who was monitoring the operation remotely, had drawn up the BATTLE operation plan.
The lawsuit notes that all three agencies are "required to protect the public and/or individuals in the operational perimeter of a takedown and/or apprehension of a suspect."
Yet, the defendants "did not clear civilians from the operational perimeter or secure the operational perimeter at any point while they were at Murray Hill Apartments."
From the lawsuit:
Sergeant Miyakusu approved and gave the “go-ahead” to begin the takedown, even though he was behind one of the apartment buildings in the Murray Hill Apartments complex, and without eyes on the scene. Detective Boggs also affirmatively stated over the radio that the BATTLE Defendants should attempt a takedown of Mr. Zetina.
At the same time, Deputy White communicated to the team that Mr. Zetina’s left arm was flexed and inside his hoodie, which was a clear sign that Mr. Zetina was armed with a weapon and a potential threat. However, the operation continued.
These officers affirmatively allowed Mr. Villanueva to continue walking towards Mr. Zetina within the operational perimeter, even though they knew that Mr. Zetina was armed with a weapon and that they were in plain clothes and in unmarked cars.
The officers were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves as members of law enforcement when they bear hugged Mr. Zetina. During the bear hug, Mr. Zetina removed a gun from his hoody and shot multiple deputies. This led to a firefight between Mr. Zetina and the BATTLE Defendants. At the end of the fight, one officer was dead, two other officers were wounded by gunfire, and a third had shrapnel wounds.
Thomas Villanueva with his family and friends, demanding the county coroner release autopsy results from the shooting, which were withheld initially but later disclosed.
The lawsuit also alleges that at least five officers saw Villanueva walk into the operational area and did nothing to prevent him being injured. Villanueva didn't recognize them because they weren't wearing police insignia, nor did they announce they were police officers when attempting to take down Zetina, as reported by the Independent
in June. The Indy
also reported in July that the CSPD's investigation of the incident, which involved its own officers, violates the spirit of a law
requiring objectivity in investigating officer-involved shootings.
"Residents in the Murray Hill Apartments complex, who observed the entire chain of events," the lawsuit says, "believed that a gang fight was happening in the parking lot. They did not know the BATTLE Defendants were members of law enforcement."
Zetina fired multiple shots, one of which struck Villanueva, severing his spinal cord.
To sum up, Villanueva was wounded because of mistakes made by the officers, the lawsuit says:
Villanueva was shot because the BATTLE Defendants made critical and lethal mistakes leading up to and during the takedown, including not securing the operational perimeter; allowing a civilian to enter the operational perimeter; keeping a civilian within the operational perimeter controlled by law enforcement during an active takedown; and continuing the takedown even though they knew Mr. Zetina was armed, while a civilian was in the operational perimeter.
District Attorney Dan May at a news conference in August where he said law enforcement was not to blame in the shooting of Villanueva.
The lawsuit alleges in detail that:
• Officers failed to identify themselves as law enforcement.
• BATTLE officers lacked proper training
and didn't identify themselves as officers when grabbing Zetina in a "bear hug."
• BATTLE officers weren't trained to secure the operational perimeter of the takedown.
Since the shooting, Villanueva has contemplated killing himself, "in part because of the Defendants' lack of accountability and failure to take responsibility for Mr. Villanueva's injuries," the lawsuit says. He moved back in with his parents, lost his job, can no longer work, lost contact with friends, can't pursue hobbies such as skateboarding and has suffered emotional harm. He will need home health care for the rest of his life, the suit says.
The lawsuit, filed by Joseph Ramos of Wheat Ridge, is based on "state-created danger," failure to train, "willful and wanton negligence" and "vicarious liability."
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May ruled in August that Villanueva's injury was tragic but not the fault of law enforcement.
The city and the Sheriff's Office declined to comment. We've also asked the Colorado State Patrol for a comment and will update if and when we hear back.
Here's the complaint:
See related PDF