‘Innocent bystander’ wounded in gunbattle that killed El Paso County deputy is suing for $1 million
Author: Kaitlin Durbin - April 5, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS — A civilian wounded in the gunbattle that killed an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy earlier this year is planning to sue the city of Colorado Springs and the county for at least $1 million.
An attorney for Thomas Villanueva filed a notice of claim in March, saying the actions of Colorado Springs police officers and El Paso County sheriff’s deputies during their Feb. 5 pursuit caused him “to suffer serious physical injuries requiring hospitalization and surgeries.” It did not specify who is believed to have shot Villanueva, saying deputies, police and the suspect, Manuel Zetina, exchanged fire.
Villanueva’s injuries, the claim says, include “gunshot wounds throughout the body,” “paralysis” and “other potential bodily injuries which are yet unknown.”
He is seeking reimbursement for losses, “which continue to accumulate,” and are “expected to exceed” $1 million. A complete evaluation of damages was not possible at the time of the claim, it says.
Villanueva was described by Sheriff Bill Elder as an “innocent bystander” who was in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when gunfire broke out on Feb. 5, as authorities in a multi-agency auto theft task force were attempting to arrest a suspect exiting a stolen vehicle in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments. A bullet struck Villanueva in his left shoulder, passing through his spinal cord and exiting through his left lung, his family said.
El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick was killed in the shooting, and three other officers were wounded.
Villanueva remained hospitalized for weeks following the shooting, recovering from a collapsed lung and multiple surgeries. Family said he since has been moved to Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver specializing in spinal cord injuries.
Despite his paralysis, Villanueva told The Gazette days following the shooting that he’s determined to walk again, but most of all thankful to be alive.
“Even if I don’t start walking again, I’m still alive. I get to still see my family, my friends and all the support I have.”