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Man accused of Arvada police officer's shooting death formally charged

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Posted at 6:25 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 14:33:09-04

ARVADA, Colo. — A man suspected in the shooting death of a 27-year-old Arvada police officer last week was formally charged Monday.

Sonny Almanza, 31, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder of a peace officer for his alleged involvement in an exchange of gunfire that ended the life of Officer Dillon Michael Vakoff early Sept. 11 on West 51st Avenue near the intersection with Marshall Street.

Almanza was also charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, second-degree assault and possession of a weapon by a previous offender. He is also facing two sentence enhancers of crime of violence.

Vakoff was killed after officers responded to check on the welfare 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.

During the exchange of gunfire, Vakoff and Almanza were struck. Vakoff was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced deceased. Almanza was treated at a nearby hospital and released into the custody of police. The woman was treated and released.

Vakoff was remembered Friday during a memorial service when he was laid to rest. He lived in Arvada and graduated from Ralston Valley High School in 2012.

He was a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force where he served with the 96th Bomb Squadron for six years before joining the Arvada Police Department in 2019. He was training to be a SWAT officer.

Vakoff wanted to become a police officer after he lost his brother, his girlfriend said during Friday service. He told her he saw what his parents went through, and he wanted to help other families in similar situations before it was too late.

Almanza's criminal 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.

At Almanza's court hearing Tuesday, he was read his formal charges. The court set a Friday deadline for the defense to file a response regarding whether his affidavit should be unsealed. The judge set an Oct. 7 motions hearing in the case and a Nov. 9 preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for the case to move forward.