ARVADA, Colo. – A man suspected in the shooting death of a 27-year-old Arvada police officer over the weekend has been identified.
Sonny Thomas Almanza, 31, is accused of being involved in the exchange of gunfire that ended the life of Officer Dillon Michael Vakoff early Sunday on West 51st Avenue near the intersection with Marshall Street.
Court records show he is being held at the Denver Jail on several different 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
- Crime resulting in serious bodily injury or death
Almanza's crime history goes back to at least 2008. Records from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) show the suspect was convicted in 2008 of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon (he was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder) and was sentenced to six years in the Youthful Offender System for the crime. Eight years later, in December of 2016, Almanza was found guilty of making a false report to police.
Vakoff was killed after officers responded to check on the well-fare of two children at a home in the area but found a large family disturbance and a chaotic scene in the street instead. As the officers attempted to separate the two groups, a man opened fire, hitting a woman.
"The initial two officers tried to separate several belligerent and uncooperative individuals when the suspect began to fire and shot a female victim," Arvada Police Chief Link Strate said during a news conference Sunday morning.
During the exchange of gunfire, Vakoff and Almanza were struck. Vakoff was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
Neighbors in the area were shaken up following the shooting. One woman, who did not want to be identified, recalled the moments she heard the chaos break out. She said neighbors scrambled to get to safety when they heard the shots.
The loss is the second in just over a year in the Arvada Police Department. In June of 2021, Officer Gordon Beesley, a 19-year veteran with the department was killed along with two others during a shooting in Olde Town Arvada.