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Shot deputies and officer part of regional crackdown on car thieves

February 6, 2018 Updated: February 7, 2018 at 12:30 pm
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Murray Hill Apartments still had police personal in the complex with a portion of the complex taped off from last night when an El Paso County sheriff deputy, Micah Flick, 34 was killed at the scene in Colorado Springs.

A shootout that killed an El Paso County sheriff's deputy and wounded two deputies, a city police officer and a civilian occurred as the law officers worked on a regional task force crackdown on auto theft.

Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was slain. Sgt. Jacob Abendschan, Deputy Scott Stone, Colorado Springs Police Detective Marcus Yanez and a civilian were shot when an auto theft investigation turned into a gun battle Monday, Sheriff Bill Elder said.

The shooter - Manuel Zetina, 19, of Colorado Springs - was killed, Elder said.

The task force is called BATTLE, for Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement, and consists of sheriff's deputies, city police and Colorado State Patrol officers.

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VIDEO: El Paso County sheriff Bill Elder talks about Monday's fatal shooting.

"They engaged a suspect of auto theft at the Murray Hill Apartments," Elder told county officials Tuesday morning. "A brief scuffle ensued, followed by a shootout with the suspect, who was killed on scene."

Abendschan, a detective, is a regional coordinator for the BATTLE group, which shares a $1.4 million federal grant to target "prolific" car thieves.

Faced with a 23 percent increase in auto thefts from 2015 to 2016, the Sheriff's Office sought more than 1,400 hours of overtime pay for deputies this year through the grant, up from about 200 hours in 2017.

"The sheer volume of (auto) theft cases, the complexity of 'chop shops' and cases involving prolific auto thieves far exceeds what detectives can handle in a regular work week," paperwork accompanying a grant application said.

Colorado Springs police detectives were investigating the gun battle, Elder said.

Deputies and police went to the apartments just before 4 p.m. to arrest Manuel Zetina, 19, a suspected auto thief. Elder said the deputies wore civilian clothes with body armor vests that identified them as sheriff's officers.

Rather than stop Zetina in the stolen car, or follow him into the Murray Hill Apartments, officers decided to confront him in the parking lot, said Lt. Howard Black, police spokesman, in a news release.

The "brief scuffle" was followed by gunfire as Zetina drew a handgun and began firing. Frantic calls were heard over police radio channels at 3:55 p.m.

"We got an officer down, at least one officer down," the radio call said.

Flick was mortally wounded.

Police recovered Zetina's semi-automatic handgun at the scene, Black said.

Elder said Abendschan apparently was hit by shrapnel from a ricocheting bullet. Stone was shot in the abdomen, and Colorado Springs Detective Marcus Yanez was hit in the groin. The three were expected to recover.

Updates weren't given on the wounded civilian, who Elder said was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Ambulances rushed to the scene, and Elder said crews worked unsuccessfully to save Flick.

A wide area of the apartment complex remained taped off Tuesday as detectives looked for evidence.

Apartment dwellers could be seen peeking out of blinds as police went about their work. The modest apartments start at $750 a month. It's a place where old, dented cars in the parking lot outnumber their undamaged counterparts.

A neighbor, who didn't want her name used, said she heard the shooting - two shots, a pause, a large volume of gunfire, a pause, and two shots.

The neighborhood has hummed with police activity in recent weeks, with 47 calls to police in the past month, including five reported car thefts and two burglaries.

The Monday gun battle was the latest in a string of local violent incidents that started with allegations of car theft.

In October 2017, a Peyton teen was left in critical condition after a shooting that deputies say was tied to several car break-ins and auto thefts.

In September 2017, a teenager repeatedly rammed a stolen car into a Colorado Springs police cruiser. The teen was arrested.

In February 2017, Michael Macias Cano was shot and killed by Colorado Springs police after an alleged home invasion and auto theft.

In December 2016, Austen Adams was charged with shooting at Teller County deputies as he fled in a stolen car.

The auto theft task force plans to spend more than $237,000 in salaries to tackle car thieves this year, including nearly $78,000 for the Sheriff's Office and $115,000 for Colorado Springs police. Grant money also was tapped to buy automatic license plate readers for police cars and other gear, including night vision goggles.

License plate readers were used to identify 1,666 stolen cars in the region in 2016, the task force said.

A key concern for the task force has been improving officer safety.

"Operationally, we have adjusted our tactics to enhance officer and public safety by taking a more methodical and safe approach to contact offenders after they have exited their vehicles as opposed to contacting them while behind the steering wheel," the task force said. "This has proven to be both very successful and safe."

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Gazette reporters Tony Peck and Rachel Riley contributed to this report.

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