COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Thomas Villanueva says law enforcement officers let him walk right into the scene of a deadly shootout that left him paralyzed and claimed the life of El Paso County Deputy Micah Flick, and now he's suing nearly everyone involved in the tragic incident that happened nearly a year ago in east Colorado Springs.
Villanueva was shot by Manuel Zetina, the carjacking suspect that multiple officers and deputies were working to arrest on Feb. 5, 2018, before the takedown went horribly awry. Now, Villanueva is saying that improper techniques by law enforcement directly led to him being paralyzed.
On the day it happened, members of the Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) Team were tracking Zetina after an alleged car theft, and they followed him to the Murray Hill Apartment complex near Galley and Murray. That's when Flick and Deputy Scott Stone approached Zetina to put him in a bear hug and arrest him. But Zetina pulled out a handgun and fired multiple gunshots, killing Flick and injuring multiple others.
Villanueva was walking back to his apartment when he was caught in the crossfire, and he immediately went down to the ground after being hit by one of Zetina's bullets.
After a monthslong investigation, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office announced that no criminal charges would be filed in the wake of the shootout.
Friday, Villanueva's attorneys filed a 30-page civil action complaint against the agencies and officers involved in the Feb. 5 takedown.
Villanueva says in his court filing that officers in the BATTLE Team are supposed to work to secure a perimeter and "must give priority to the safety of ALL persons, including those who enter the scene."
The suit also calls attention to the fact that many of the BATTLE Team members were not easily identifiable as police officers, and Villanueva argues that residents at the apartment complex who saw the event "believed that a gang fight was happening in the parking lot."
At the heart of the issue is this: Villanueva says he was walking back to his apartment after getting food, and multiple officers didn't stop him from walking right into the area where Zetina was about to be grabbed. His lawyers say officers knew Zetina was a gang member and they should have cleared the area in anticipation of an escalation. They argue they made critical mistakes that were negligent and resulted in Villanueva's paralysis.
District Attorney Dan May said his role wasn't to comment on the tactics used.
Named in the lawsuit are El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, the estate of Micah Flick, Dep. Scott Stone, Sgt. Jacob Abendschan, Det. John Watts, Det. Tremaine White, Det. Stephanie Criss, Det. Michael Boggs, the city of Colorado Springs, former CSPD Chief Pete Carey, CSPD Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu, officer Marcus Yanez, Colorado State Patrol investigator John Reindollar, and CSP Sgt. Chad Hunt.
There are four civil counts in the lawsuit:
- State-created danger (against Flick's estate, Abendschan, Watts, White, Criss, Boggs, Miyakusu, Yanez, Reindollar, and Hunt)
- Failure to train (against the EPCSO, Elder, Abendschan, CSPD, Carey, and Miyakusu)
- Willful and Wanton negligence (against all defendants)
- Vicarious liability and Respondeat Superior (against EPCSO and CSPD)
The counts outline the various responsibilities of the officers and departments behind the attempted takedown of Zetina. You can read the full civil suit HERE (PDF).
Villanueva's lawyers haven't requested a specific amount of compensation at this time, but they want a trial by jury, according to the filing. The lawsuit says Villanueva's life has been dramatically changed. He can't engage in the hobbies that he used to when he had mobility in his legs, and he cannot have sexual relationships. He's also "suffered emotional harm and now is scared to make decisions on his own."
Neither CSPD, the EPCSO, nor any of the other named defendants have issued a comment at this time.
Previous Story (Aug. 22 - Chase Golightly)
After the 4th Judicial District Attorney announced on Tuesday that February's fatal officer-involved shooting was justified, many are wondering what that means for the innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.
Thomas Villanueva was shot by a single bullet from the man authorities were trying to arrest, Manuel Zetina. It left Villanueva paralyzed from the chest down. Months after the shooting, but before we knew Zetina's bullet hit the innocent bystander, Villanueva sent a notice to the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County that he was going to file a lawsuit against them for the injuries he received the day of the shooting.
However, after Tuesday's announcement that law enforcement did not shoot Villanueva, does he still have a case against the City and County?
Colorado Springs criminal attorney Jeremy Loew says, Villanueva "absolutely" has a case, but added that it would have to be a civil lawsuit since no criminal charges were brought forward. Loew says, "He'd be suing for essentially a tort of assault because he was injured as a result of somebody's actions."
Adding that just because nothing criminal happened doesn't mean he can't still be compensated."What's changed is that the district attorney's office is that law enforcement didn't do anything wrong criminally," Loew says, "that doesn't mean they didn't do anything wrong civilly."
But it will not be an easy battle. Loew says Villanueva's attorney will have to prove to a jury that the officers and deputies involved did not follow safe and proper procedures. During Tuesday's news conference, District Attorney Dan May said his role wasn't to comment on the tactics used.
"There is going to be a lot of officers that are going to testify about how they used the appropriate amount of force and they were trying to protect the community," Loew says, "but that doesn't necessarily change things."
We spoke to Villanueva's attorney after the District Attorney's briefing and they say they cannot comment on the lawsuit. We also reached out to Villanueva who says he also cannot comment.