Press Conference Regarding Thomas Villanueva
Watch the full Press Conference
Thomas Villanueva Press Conference Transcription
Dr. Ramos: So I’d like to thank you all guy for coming first. I know there’s been a lot circulating in the media regarding Thomas Villanueva, obviously, officer Flick, and the events surrounding this. There are a lot of questions out there and I’m hoping today that we can help set the record straight. I’ve prepared a few things here in a statement that I’d like to make first. I think it will answer a lot of questions and provide a lot of the information that you all would like. And then if you have questions after that, I’m happy to answer those as well.
As many of you know today, February 5th, 2019 marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Officer Micah Flick and the paralysis of our client, Thomas Villanueva. This is a very sad day, it’s a sad day for Colorado, it’s a sad day for families. And it’s a day that we can all have compassion for a fallen officer, we can have compassion for wounded officers, and we can also have compassion for a 29-year-old man who has been paralyzed through no fault of his own. These individuals all suffered these injuries in the same event when officers of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Springs Police Department, and the Colorado State Patrol attempted to take down a car thief. It’s literally called a “takedown.” The officers that did this are part of what they call the BATTLE team. These officers are from three different governmental agencies, they do not work together on a regular basis, and they do not train together, yet they were directed to execute this tragic event.
There’s been a lot of mistruths and unfair statements circulating regarding the events of February 5th, 2018. This is in a large part because no information was provided, no investigation results were released, to any parties until August 21st, 2018. That’s more than six and a half months after this event occurred. Victims, their families, and the public sat by waiting months and months for answers. My colleagues, Brian Calandra, Russell Araya, who were working on this case along with several other attorneys at our firm, Rebekah Stern, and Scott Hooper, probed and probed, six and a half months of silence.
This is important to know because a Colorado Governmental Immunity statute is such that allows a very short time period to bring a claim, in many cases six months or 180 days in order to have a claim filed. In this case, they took the various governmental agencies over six months just to release their version of events. These events occurred in less than a minute, they involved 11 officers and Thomas Villanueva, but we waited six and a half months to hear anything. Why such a delay?
This delay forced our law firm to bring a claim on behalf of Mr. Villanueva to preserve his rights while we waited to better understand what happened on that day. Worse yet, the results of the investigation have now left more questions than they have answers. Further misconceptions have only been magnified, and I’d like to clarify some of those for you today.
First and very importantly, Thomas Villanueva did not walk into the middle of a crime scene or a gunfight. Some people have said Thomas was in the wrong place at the wrong time, others have said this was just bad luck, it was neither. The truth is that Thomas Villanueva was walking home on his lunch break like many people here in Colorado probably do in any given day. It was the middle of the day, he was on his lunch break and he was in front of his home. Unbeknownst to Thomas though, he was in the middle of a bunch of undercover police officers, all in plain clothes, all completely unidentifiable as police officers. Worse yet, Thomas walked along the road leading into his apartment complex for some distance and some amount of time right there with these officers. No one said a thing. Thomas had no idea they were about to do the takedown of a suspect, they looked at Thomas several times, they never said a word. The police investigation shows that the officer saw Thomas, he was in the officers’ operational perimeter for a substantial amount of time, yet the decision was made to keep him there as they went forward with their operation.
It’s very important for people to understand, very important to understand, that there was no sense of agency. Absolutely, no sense of urgency in this case that a takedown had to occur at that specific moment. The car thief wasn’t posing an immediate threat of harm, in fact, he completed his crime days earlier. These officers, the BATTLE team, were not responding to an immediate threat. They had been following and tracking this car all day long. We believe that department policy should not create risks and dangers for the public and for innocent bystanders like Thomas Villanueva. Thomas had no way of knowing that a deadly situation was about to unfold, that he was kept inside this operational perimeter, this zone of danger, and that there were undercover officers on the scene. The next thing Thomas knew he was laying on the ground paralyzed.
The second miss truth I think needs to be clarified is that Thomas Villanueva is not after the police officers who were part of this event, this is absolutely not true. This has been circulating and I can tell you that it’s very damaging to this young man. Thomas simply wants the governmental agencies responsible for his paralysis to stand up and treat him as they would any officer who had been paralyzed. This mistruth that he’s after the police officers, I can tell you where it came from. It came from a complaint at our law firm filed. We filed a complaint that named the officers as well as the governmental police agencies. The complaint was filed that way because under Colorado law it had to be, otherwise, Thomas may have lost his ability to get any assistance because he failed to name all parties involved. This forced Thomas to name everyone while additional facts were being sorted out. Thomas has asked the government though to accept responsibility so that individual officers involved may be immediately released, that is his wishes.
The third misconception is that Thomas is just after money. If you look at any of the social blogs and posts going around, it’s pretty sad they accuse Thomas of being after money and greedy lawyers as being involved. In fact, Thomas has already started to receive hate mails and this accusation again just couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that Thomas has only asked the governmental agencies involved to treat him fairly. As I said to provide him the same benefits that they would provide any officer who had fallen and then paralyzed in an event like this, that’s what Thomas asked for.
What was he told? What was an innocent citizen told? He was told no. They refused they’ve offered Thomas nothing. The government should take care of their citizens when they cause them devastating injuries.
Please remember, in ending, Thomas Villanueva is a 29-year-old man who will never walk again. He must use a catheter to urinate, he must have the assistance of a lift just like you would use to lift a car engine up just to get into his bed, no longer can live independently, he now lives with his parents. They’re trying to figure how they’re gonna modify their home, door entries, bathrooms, the kitchen just to meet basic needs. All this for a young man who simply had his lunch break in front of his home in broad daylight and surrounded by the very police officers who are charged with keeping our citizens safe. Yet, Thomas ends up paralyzed, his life changed forever. How does this happen?
I can’t imagine any Colorado family who are put in a similar position will not have some serious questions as to how this occurred. Who would not demand answers if they or their family member were placed in a zone of danger by a system the very system that was meant to protect them?
I hope that answered most of your questions. If there any additional questions, I’d be happy to fill those now, that may actually involve all my colleagues, Brian Calandra, and Russell Araya, as well.
Reporter 1: For the record would you start by telling us your name spelling and title, please.
Dr. Ramos: Absolutely. So my name is Joseph Ramos, the last name is spelled R-A-M-O-S. I’m a medical doctor and an attorney.
Reporter 1: In terms of what kind of pain is he, is he somewhat in pain at this point? Talk about his injuries and such, you know, in terms of operation and surgeries, what he’s endured?
Dr. Ramos: Yes, we do. So Thomas underwent several major surgeries. He had shuttered vertebrate from the upper aspect of his thoracic spine that’s up in the area between the shoulder blade about T3 down through the areas about T6. He had an extensive amount of blood, it was along his spinal cord, as well as the damage that was done to that area. He had a collapsed lung, he lost massive amounts of blood, and I believe he even had to be transfused as part of this. He underwent several surgeries just to stabilize his spine so that he would be able to stand up or sit up. He has no use from his nipple area down and he has no feeling from that area down because it’s a complete cord injury. And so he is rendered completely dependent at this point.
Reporter 2: Can you talk…sorry.
Dr. Ramos: Go ahead.
Reporter 2: Can you talk about just emotionally what he’s been through? Those six months of waiting he didn’t even know who’s bullet was in him, right?
Dr. Ramos: Yes, you’re correct he did not know. The event happened so fast for him. At one moment he was walking down the block into his apartment complex and felt like he was following a group of guys who probably lived there, and the next minute he was on the ground, and he didn’t know why. His initial feelings when he heard about Officer Flick who had passed was, he was tearful and cried. I believe he even did that in one of the interviews before we represented him, very, very sad by that. Initially, he was quite hopeful that he would be able to walk again, as anyone might be, and over the time it’s been a painful realization that he will never walk again, he will never have control of his bowel and bladder function again, and the changes this means in his life. That has led to obvious depression and he’s been struggling to live with that, he’s waxed and waned the feelings of guilt for the officers that were injured, wondering if somehow he was a part of it, not understanding. And it has been a very big struggle for him that’s been compounded by the fact that he gets continual hate mails.
It’s really hard to stay positive when you have people saying to you, “You’re a real lowlife scumbag, you deserve nothing, dude,” as this person says, “Wrong place wrong time you are an F-ing loser.” It’s really hard to keep your head up when you’re getting e-mails like this from people who think that were out for the money when they have no idea how these operations were managed. And they have no idea that it could’ve been them on their lunch break in front of their home and went through this. You know, here’s one, “So glad your ugly ass is paralyzed.” Who could write things this? These are the type of things he’s living with.
Reporter 3: I know you talked about how most officers weren’t in uniform, have you any indication at all there was a police presence whatsoever? Were there any marked patrol cars? Were there any indications there was law enforcement operation happening?
Dr. Ramos: Absolutely not, and that’s one of the most troubling aspects of this case. No one yelled, “Police, hands up.” No one had any insignia on to indicate that they were a police officer, not displayed in any way, they did underneath clothing. In fact, there are several witnesses who live in the apartment complex who came out, one I believe with a gun because she thought there was a gang fight going on. And there were many people at the scene, not just Thomas but residents of this apartment complex, who felt like that there was no police presence, that this was all one big gang fight. Again, part of Thomas’s confusion to this whole thing.
Reporter 3: You also said, I know you explained it, and a lot of people would probably ask, why name the assailant of Micah Flick in this lawsuit? Can you kind of explain a little more in-depth on why that is?
Dr. Ramos: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s an excellent question. The law mandates it, is the simple answer. When you leave out a party involved or whose actions are part of an event, and you leave them out, it allows for, what many times we normally call, an empty chair for, you know, the finger to be pointed at somebody like Officer Flick, so you end up having to name them. We tried everything we could do not to, we believe that the officers and their actions are often governed by political and bureaucratic decisions above them, that many actions like the ability to have a gun available, like why they were tackling somebody, like why they may be talking on cell phones to communicate instead of using radios, are governed by forces beyond and outside of the officer’s control. The last thing we wanted to do was involved Officer Flick in that, but again because the law mandates it because the Thomas’ ability to getting any assistance could be thrown out without that, we were forced to include him. But we have asked that the County accept responsibility so that Officer Flick and all the other officers can immediately be released from any accusation of wrongdoing.
Reporter 3: Can you talk about the differences, if there are any, and the immunity that law enforcement officers and government agencies have whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case.
Dr. Ramos: Well, yes, but I’d like to keep it brief. Basically, the state has a level of immunity that absolves them from essentially any lawsuits in most cases. Now, there are several exceptions to that I believe eight to be exact. And of the eight, there does not appear to be any that necessarily would apply in this part. Now, what’s interesting is the state allows the officers to be sued individually, but they’re immune. And a lot of that becomes an aspect of if there has been any sort of reckless disregard for safety or for others. And without going into a full-blown legal dissertation, that’s probably all that I can say.
Reporter 3: Don’t you feel that’s the case here and that gives you more of a leeway to sue these individual officers?
Dr. Ramos: Well, we don’t wanna a leeway to sue the individual officers, we know that their actions will be raised by the County and potentially even by the state in the defense. Our position is that the officers act with what they’re given, they act into orders and they act under protocols from higher up. Without protocols without procedures for handling events like this, without a game plan, it can almost be certain that there will be some form of disaster, and that’s what we believe happened here.
Reporter 3: You mentioned that you can still…today is the anniversary of Officer Flick being shot in that incident. And you were saying that you can still have the press conference today and still honor and remember the officers and what they were involved with that day. What do you say to some people though who question the timing of this, that you are coming out with a news conference to kinda give your side of things here on your client’s behalf on the same day that this officer lost his life?
Dr. Ramos: Well, there were two reasons that prompted this decision, both very important. One is, as of the one year anniversary there are particular state or legal deadlines that fall upon us as well with regard to particular claims that we can bring. And we don’t wanna risk missing the statute of limitations and having all of Thomas’ rights thrown out simply because of this date. So this date marks not only the anniversary, but it also marks a legal anniversary that may govern the ability to bring some of these claims, that’s number one.
Number two is, with the honoring of Officer Flick, which we as well honor and strongly encourage and we stand behind him and his family…but with that as well, it escalated these hate mails that I’ve pointed out to you of which we have a pile of, have skyrocketed. And we felt, for the truth to be known about the character, the quality of integrity of the person we represent, Thomas Villanueva, it was important to let people know that there are two sides to every story. And Thomas’ tears shed after this event for the officers injured were not fake tears, this is a very quality young man who it’s an honor to represent. And he is honoring Officer Flick today as much as everyone is. And I don’t think that was getting out. When you’re getting e-mails like this, clearly, it’s not getting out.
Reporter 3: My last question for you, sir, is, is it possible at all for the government entities involved, for example, to be able to pay your client something in terms of the settlement or whatnot without having to admit fault? Is that something you’d accept if it’s possible?
Dr. Ramos: Well, I won’t get into what we will accept and what we won’t accept. I will tell you that we did reach out to those governmental agencies and we did speak with them in an effort, as I said, to get Thomas Villanueva the type of treatment that an officer, paralyzed officer, would receive in this type of situation. I feel like we extended an opportunity to them to take care of him, and it was a resounding, “No.” That’s all I’d like to say with regard to any sort of settlement discussions or anything of that sort. I really think this is about a lot more than money.
This is about public safety and so this doesn’t happen to another person, you know? I went out for lunch today, I was outside my home today, I don’t want to have to worry about getting shot by someone, particularly when I’m surrounded by a bunch of undercover police officers. This is about public safety and making sure that that doesn’t happen again to anyone else as much as it is to making sure that we have a 29-year-old paralyzed man who will probably never be able to experience the joy of being a father, potentially, you know, a husband. His struggles right now are so immense and that’s what this is about.
Reporter 2: What can we expect moving forward now that the complaint has been filed and this process has got the ball rolling?
Dr. Ramos: I’m excited about what you can expect. I think that you and the public will learn things that they never dreamed of. I think the people that cast in ugly judgment, hopefully, will send Thomas Villanueva an apology. And it will remind people that there are, again, there are two sides to every story. I expect that we will find significantly flawed operations directed by governmental entities. I suspect that we will find police officers they are forced into positions by, again, bureaucrats, for lack of a better term, the lack of proper planning that placed people unnecessarily at risk and who recklessly placed Thomas Villanueva at risk. I think you’ll be shocked by the findings, and what you can expect is you can expect his law firm to turn over every single stone. We will not stop until we’re at the bottom of this period.
Brian: Thank you. Any questions from the folks on the phone?
Reporter 4: Yes, no other, thank you. Go ahead, Caitlyn [SP].
Caitlyn: Oh, sorry, I was just gonna ask, you mentioned a lot in the lawsuit about what BATTLE does train on and does not train on, have you guys received documents explaining the type of training that they received?
Dr. Ramos: We have some documents and we have reviewed some available data that I believe you all have access to as well. But we have not received any particular discovery or other internal documents that we plan on seeking.
Caitlyn: Okay, and then my question, you guys mentioned a lot you’re just looking for the agencies to take responsibility and to treat Thomas the way they would any other paralyzed officer. Can you just explain a little bit more of what exactly that means? How are those officers treated? What are you looking for?
Dr. Ramos: You know, I’ll tell you something that will be very disappointing. The question, if you didn’t hear was, you know, how officers…how are officers treated that are injured? If there’s a third goal that comes to the forefront through all of this, I hope it’s that the public sees how bad officers are treated who are injured. There are many stories where we’ve been getting called by officers…the flood calls come into our office, by the way, has not just been media, there have been officers. It’s overwhelming.
And to hear some of the stories about how they’re injured and then how the state hires attorneys to go against them and their workers’ compensation claims, literally against the very people defending us, is very disappointing. And so my hope is that one thing that comes out of this is that officers are treated better in the future when they suffer these injuries. Whatever treatment they may be allowed, and we have not investigated that fully to this point, obviously, because we were just told blatantly, no…but whatever is allowed, to the fullest extent, we except Thomas Villanueva to be provided.
Reporter 5: Well, you talked about this…I know you said money is not the object here, but is there a certain amount in damages or restitution or whatever that you’d like for the client to have or will that be up to a jury to decide if this goes to trial?
Dr. Ramos: Two things. I’m glad you asked that question because there are two things. When we initially filed our notice of claim there was a number placed in there of a million dollars or something like this. We have to place a number there was no particular formula or math or anything done and I’m sure no one would accept Thomas’ condition for a million dollars, there’s no amount of money you can put on his condition.
That being said, how damages are typically assessed in a case like this are figuring out what an individual has to go through and what they may face for the rest of their life. So, for example, how much do his catheters cost every day? How much do…if he has medicines for spasm, for muscle spasms, how much does those costs? Or medicines for sleep? How much does a lift cost and how much does…how long dos lift last for? What is the cost to build ramps into a home or to modify showers or doorways? What does it cost to have a van so that you can potentially travel somewhere?
And that’s just a scratching on the surface of things that Thomas has to face that he does not have the funds for. That is part of our recovery for him. And we would hope that our state and the county involved in this would do that one of their officers. We would hope that they would provide them with every bit of those things and more. And whatever that may be, whatever the extent of that is, we put that together with what’s called the Life Care Plan, and that’s what we asked for.
Reporter 6: I wonder if he working prior to this or was he?
Dr. Ramos: Thomas was working doing consult work where he was taking in and processing orders and then he would dispatch orders out to places. That was his employment at the time this happened.
Reporter 7: What other factors go into that number beside just the outright medical care costs and different things like that? Are there emotional factors that can be quantified or?
Dr. Ramos: There are and they’re the hardest things to quantify. You know, as I said how do you put a number on, you know, if you ask that kind of question we’ve all heard, “What’s it worth to be paralyzed? What’s it worth to catheterize every day multiple times? What is it worth to not have control of our bowel or bladder?”
And most people would say you can’t put a price on that, and those things do get incorporated into this. And typically we just try to rely on the fairness of people to reflect and see what someone must go through because what’s true in a real-world impairment is it’s really a huge category of damages that I think everybody sees a little differently. And we respect however someone may see that because we do understand the difficulty placed on them by that. And there are the hard economic things and the medical bills. We’ve talked about the past medical bills and then, in this case, I haven’t looked at them lately, but I know that they’re in the millions of dollars.
Reporter 8: I have a question.
Frank: Sorry, the last question, please.
Reporter 8: I have a question. What reform are you looking for, if any, in how these kinds of police operations are undertaken or could that even be accomplished in a civil lawsuit like this one?
Dr. Ramos: Well, it’s certainly one of our major goals in this lawsuit, is to absolutely make certain that reforms are undertaken. And if they’re not we will feel like we have failed in a major area. The full extent of the reforms we feel need to be taken, I can’t elaborate on yet because that, of course, comes to part of the discovery process and investigation process, depositions, and stuff that we will go through to turn over additional evidence. But I can tell you that we have pretty strong reason to believe that officers are discouraged from pulling their guns. Why were they tackling someone like this, why? We have reason to believe that maybe information about this particular criminal’s background may not have been shared with them, why? Why would they have to go into a situation where they don’t know what they’re addressing?
We have reason to believe that they went into this with an inability to effectively communicate with each other. These officers, you guys can see the reports, it’s finally been released, are on cell phones. How do you get 11 officers communicating by cell phone at the scene of an event like this, why? And that is exactly why we are saying these officers are placed in horrendous positions and they’re placed there by someone making decisions who’s not there with them. And we’re gonna find out what those are. That’s just a few of the things. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture we need to find out why that happens and it needs to change or you will see more and more police officers dying. And if they’re going to allow innocent people, innocent bystanders, in their operational perimeter, you’re gonna see more and more innocent civilians die, period. Something has to change.
Brian: With that folks, on behalf of Thomas and his family, we thank you for your time. Our hearts go out to him as well as Officer Flick’s family and the other wounded officers. We ask that all of Colorado’s thoughts and prayers be with them. Thank you for your time.
Dr. Ramos: Thank you.