Thomas Villanueva outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15, 2018, seeking to have autopsy reports released.
"Wrong place, wrong time. You are a loser."
"Low life scumbag."
"So glad your ugly ass is paralyzed."
That's the type of mail Thomas Villanueva has received since he filed a notice of claim last year, and a federal lawsuit on Feb. 1, after being paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet fired during an attempt to arrest an auto thief in Colorado Springs on Feb. 5, 2018.
That incident, which involved the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and Colorado State Patrol, also claimed the life of Deputy Micah Flick and wounded four officers.
The hate mail came to light on Feb. 5 during a news conference held by Dr. Joseph Ramos, a medical doctor and lawyer representing Villanueva, 29, in his case against the city, county and officers from all three entities.
"Who could write these things?" Ramos asked the media.
Ramos said the reason he called the news conference was to diffuse criticism of Villanueva, who anguished over Flick's death and the other officers' injuries, as well as his own situation after Manuel Zetina opened fire at the Murray Hill Apartments.
He also wants the public to understand the timing of the lawsuit, filed four days before the first anniversary of the shooting, stemmed from legal requirements of launching litigation within a certain period of time following the event in question.
Ramos used the news conference platform to raise questions about the Zetina operations, covering much of the ground the Independent did in its June 20, 2018
report, including the more than six month gap between the incident and the official District Attorney's Office's finding
that the shooting was justified; that the officers working under the auspices of the State Patrol's Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) never trained together; that the 11 officers on scene didn't have badges displayed, didn't have one other police insignia that was visible and failed to identify themselves as police officers before trying to grab Zetina.
"Unbeknownst to Thomas," Ramos said, "he was in the midst of police officers, all in plain clothes, all unidentifiable as police officers. Thomas had no idea they were about to do the take down. They never said a word."
Ramos says although police reports
indicate officers saw Villanueva during the run-up to the attempted arrest, they went ahead with their operation, one that Ramos said carried no urgency and could have been handled at another time and place.
"One of our major goals in this lawsuit is to make certain reforms are undertaken and, if not, we would feel we failed in this area," he said. "Why were they tackling someone like this?" Other questions include:
• how much the officers knew about their target and why they didn't know more;
• whether their cell-phone communications were sufficient;
• and why officers were discouraged from from drawing their weapons — an issue the Indy explored in this story published June 20, 2018
Asked how much his client is seeking, Ramos didn't answer directly, but suggested it will be well over the $1 million figure cited in the notice of claim in order to meet statutory requirements to cite a figure. That's because he'll seek compensation for Villanueva's past and future medical expenses; cost of ramps, a lift use to put him to bed each night, modification to his parents home such as doorways and the shower; lost wages; and more intangible costs for Villanueva's depression, loss of the ability to have children, and inability to work and live the life he expected to live.
Ramos said it's possible the officers themselves, all of whom are named in the federal lawsuit, could be dismissed as defendants while leaving the city, county, Sheriff Bill Elder and Police Chief Pete Carey to be held to account.
"We believe the officers and their actions are governed by political decisions above them," he said, echoing a concern voiced to the Indy
by several law enforcement officers as the newspaper investigated the shooting last year. "These officers were placed in a horrendous position...."
The city and county have declined to comment on the case.
Courtesy District Attorney's Office
This diagram shows where everyone was located when the shooting went down.