Arrest affidavit in deadly shooting of Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff provide glimpse of moments before shooting

Posted at 1:19 PM, Sep 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-26 19:26:34-04

ARVADA, Colo. — An arrest affidavit in the case of a man accused of killing Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff obtained by Denver7 Monday provided more details about the moments that led to the deadly shooting of the young officer earlier this month.

On Sept. 11 around 1:45 a.m., two officers — including Officer Dillon Vakoff and Officer D. Garibay — responded to an apartment at 6753 W. 51st Avenue in Arvada after receiving a report of a custody disturbance that involved two children. The reporting party, who is referred to as “RP” in this article, said the mother of the two children was on her way to the apartments to try to take the children back. The caller said she believed the mother was intoxicated, according to the affidavit.

When Vakoff and Garibay arrived at the scene, they found the children's mother. As she began to explain what was happening, a driver pulled up and a physical fight began in the parking lot. During the fight, Sonny Thomas Almanza III, 31, brought a rifle into the parking lot and fired, striking a woman and Vakoff. Almanza also had gunshot wounds, according to the affidavit.

All three were transported to a hospital. Vakoff died of his wounds.

Officers learned that both Almanza and RP — who is related to Almanza — and her husband lived at the apartment complex in two separate units.

According to the affidavit, two detectives spoke with Almanza at the hospital. He explained that he recently separated from the children's mother and did not have a court-issued child custody agreement, and instead relied on a mutual exchange of the kids in order to see them. On the evening of Sept. 10, she had the children, he told detectives.

He said early on Sept. 11, he was in downtown Denver with RP and her husband. After two shots of alcohol, he learned the children's mother had left the kids with another family member. Almanza, RP and RP's husband then drove together to the home of the mother of the children's mother, according to the affidavit.

Almanza said he heard somebody crying inside and went into the home through an unlocked door. There, he found the children in the care of juveniles who were related to the children's mother. Almanza took the children and headed home with RP driving the vehicle.

Almanza told authorities that the mother of his children had texted and called him with threatening messages that indicated "she and other members of her family were on their way to Arvada and were intending to begin an altercation with Sonny in order to receive (redacted)," according to the affidavit.

The affidavit shows Almanza said he had been assaulted by members of the mother's family in the past few weeks following their breakup, and told officers he knew members of the family were drug dealers and carried firearms.

Before the other family arrived, the RP called 911. After this and before officers arrived, RP's husband received a security notification that his front door had been opened, according to the affidavit.

As RP continued driving westbound on W. 51st Avenue nearing the apartment, Almanza said he saw several vehicles from family of the mother of his children. Some people were standing outside the vehicles, including the mother's sisters and brother.

When RP's husband stepped out of the car, he was attacked by the mother's family members. Almanza got out of the car to help the husband and was involved in a fight for "only a few seconds" before he went to his apartment and retrieved his assault rifle. He said he had been gifted the AR-15 by RP's husband after he moved into the apartment. He put the partially disassembled firearm together and went back outside. He said he didn't see anybody in the fight with a gun, but believed others were armed, according to the affidavit.

He fired the rifle one time into the air, began walking toward the fight and then saw the mother's sister run toward him. When she was within 10 feet of him, Almanza said he fired one shot at her and she moved to the curb and fell on the ground, according to the affidavit.

At that point, Almanza said he didn't see anybody else fighting. Believing it was still happening out of view, he walked around the outside of the building with the rifle's barrel pointing up, according to the affidavit.

While walking between two vehicles, he heard a gunshot and realized he had been struck on the outside of his right hip. He saw a person just north of him between two cars and Almanza said he estimated that he was about one car-length away. He said he pointed the rifle at the person and fired one round, according to the affidavit.

"The subject fell to the ground and Sonny realized he had shot a police officer," the affidavit reads.

Arrest affidavit in deadly shooting of Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff provide glimpse of moments before shooting

He ran into the backyard and threw the rifle away, "indicating he did not want anyone else to get shot," the document continues. He returned to the front of the building and was taken into custody. He claimed members of the mother's family continued to assault and "drag him around" after he was in handcuffs, he said in the affidavit.

During a follow-up sweep, officers found multiple firearms.

Investigators also interviewed the mother's sister, who had been shot. A doctor told her that her injuries were not serious.

The sister explained she had gone to Almanza's residence to retrieve her sister's children after learning that he had taken the kids from her sister's mother's house.

The sister said the physical fight began once Almanza, RP and RP's husband arrived at the apartments. She also told police she did not keep track of where Almanza was during the fight, but was suddenly shot in the leg and was injured, the affidavit states.

At the scene, officers also said they noted a strong odor of marijuana, which is illegal to consume when in possession and use of a firearm, per Colorado law.

Documents show Almanza has had previous charges for multiple weapons-related offenses and was convicted of first-degree assault causing bodily injury in 2008. He currently has a traffic-related warrant for his arrest.

Police said that while a rifle was found on the ground outside the apartment building as investigators canvassed the scene, they’re not sure if it is the same weapon used in the deadly shooting of Vakoff.

An on-scene investigation found eight rounds had impacted a wall directly behind where Vakoff was at the time of the shooting. Additionally, there were rounds that entered into the sides of vehicles that were on either side of the officer, according to the affidavit.

A detective said it appeared Vakoff had been shot in the head and the leg.

Arresting documents also show that when Almanza shot the mother’s sister, she was near the vehicle that had the children inside, which was the same vehicle he arrived in “and therefore would have been aware of their presence in the vehicle,” the affidavit states.

Almanza now faces several charges, including first-degree murder of a peace officer with extreme indifference, attempted first-degree murder after deliberation, attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer with extreme indifference, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, two counts of reckless child abuse, possession of a weapon used in commission of a violent crime, and crime resulting in serious bodily injury or death.