Wednesday’s protest for public records in the name of injured civilian Thomas Villanueva is back on after the first attempt failed Tuesday amid warnings from attorneys that it might negatively affect any lawsuit he might file.
Villanueva says he will attend the protest at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, 2741 E. Las Vegas St., but will decline all interviews, as his attorney advised.
“I just want to show up to show that my life matters,” Villanueva said. “I just want answers just like anyone else would.”
Villanueva was paralyzed from the waist down during a February gunfight that killed sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick and suspected car thief Manuel Zetina.
The protest was sparked by a petition filed by the coroner’s office to seal the autopsy records of Flick and Zetina.
The coroner argued that releasing the records, which would include details about where the two were shot, how many times and possibly the types of bullets used, “will cause a substantial injury to the public interest” and “cause additional stress and grief” to Flick’s family.
But protest organizer Michael DeRossett argued that withholding the records violated Villanueva’s rights to information about how he was shot and by whom.
And, because the Sheriff’s Office previously described Villanueva, 28, as an “innocent bystander” in the wrong place at the wrong time, DeRossett says, they also want to know why he wasn’t warned to stay away when officers tried to arrest Zetina in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments. Three officers were wounded in the incident.
“Thomas simply needs answers,” DeRossett has said. “We demand transparency. What do they have to hide by sealing these records?”
The Gazette and the Colorado Springs Independent have hired legal counsel to fight for the autopsy reports.
DeRossett said his goal remains the same, and he only canceled Tuesday’s event because of Villanueva’s attorneys’ warnings. “We cannot pursue something that might affect Thomas’ legal case,” he said.
Villanueva has filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — indicating that if officers are found to have acted inappropriately, he will sue city and county agencies for his “serious physical injuries requiring hospitalization and surgeries.”
Michael Varney, 58, apparently didn’t get the memo about the first cancellation and stood alone outside the courthouse Tuesday.
Varney said he doesn’t know Villanueva, but calls himself a “concerned citizen” — concerned about public safety.
He lives in a neighborhood off Powers and Palmer Park boulevards, a couple of miles from the shooting site off Galley Road and Murray Boulevard.
Varney said he came to protest for “better attention to safety issues” and to question why the county is seeking to withhold records.
“Do you think that’s true?” he asked waiting media about the coroner’s reasons for wanting to seal the records.
“We still want people to show up to help support Thomas, we still want the records open,” his mother, Sallie Villanueva, said in a post on the Justice for Thomas Villanueva Facebook page.
Contact the writer at 719-636-0362 or find her on Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin.