Man accused of killing Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff pleads not guilty

Arvada Police Officer Dillon Michael Vakoff
Posted at 12:46 PM, May 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-30 14:46:39-04

DENVER – The man accused of killing Officer Dillon Vakoff in September of last year during a fight in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Arvada pleaded not guilty to several charges, including first-degree murder of a peace officer with extreme indifference, in court Tuesday.

Court documents show Sonny Thomas Almanza III pleaded not guilty for the Sept. 11 killing of Officer Vakoff to charges of first-degree murder of a peace officer with extreme indifference, first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree murder with extreme indifference, attempted first-degree murder after deliberation, attempted first-degree murder with extreme indifference, among others.

Officers with the Arvada Police Department responded to an apartment at 6753 W. 51st Avenue at around 1:45 a.m. that day after receiving a report of a custody disturbance that involved two children.

When Vakoff arrived to the scene to talk to the mother of the children, Almanza III pulled up to the apartment complex’s parking lot and a fight ensued. During the fight, Almanza brought a rifle into the parking lot and fired, striking a woman and Vakoff.

Vakoff died of his wounds.

An arrest affidavit in the case states Almanza told officers he had 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.

In the early hours of Sept. 11, he was in downtown Denver with a woman referred to as “RP” and her husband and after taking 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.

Community mourns for Officer Dillon Vakoff

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.

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.

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 is also charged with second-degree assault causing injury with a deadly weapon, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, possession of a large capacity magazine during a crime, trespassing an inhabited dwelling, violent crime with a used weapon and violent crime causing serious bodily or death.

Almanza’s next hearing is Aug. 17 at 8 a.m.

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