Arvada police Officer Dillon Vakoff killed during brawl over children’s custody

Officer Dillon Vakoff (Provided by Arvada Police Department)
Officer Dillon Vakoff (Provided by Arvada Police Department)

The Arvada police officer killed in a Sept. 11 shooting had responded to a dispute between two parents over the custody of their children that turned into a violent fight involving both sides of the couple’s extended family, according to newly unsealed court records.

Officer Dillon Vakoff died from a gunshot wound to his head that police say was fired by 31-year-old Sonny Thomas Almanza III, who was feuding with his former partner over the custody of their two minor children, according to an Arvada Police Department arrest affidavit released Monday.

Almanza also shot his former partner’s sister, Mercedes Lopez, 28, in the leg, according to the affidavit.

During an interview at a hospital, Almanza, 28, told detectives that he did not realize police were on scene until after he had shot Vakoff, the affidavit said.

Vakoff, 27, died outside the apartment complex at 6753 W. 51st Ave., surrounded by fellow officers. Vakoff is one of three peace officers killed this year in Colorado and the second Arvada officer to be killed in the line of duty in two years.

Almanza and his former partner, Lexis Lopez, 25, had broken up two days before the shooting and did not have a court order that dictated how they would share custody of their two children. The children’s ages are not disclosed in the affidavit.

On the night of the shooting, Lexis Lopez had left their children at her mother’s house while Almanza told detectives that he was in downtown Denver with his sister and brother-in-law. He told police that he had two shots of alcohol that night, the affidavit said.

When Almanza found out his children were not with their mother, he and his family members drove to Thornton and took the two children, according to the affidavit.

Once Lexis Lopez learned her children had been taken by their father, she texted Almanza to let him know she was on her way with family members and they planned to fight over the kids, the affidavit said. Almanza’s sister, Destiny Medlock, called Arvada police from the car to ask for their help.

When Almanza and his family arrived at their apartment, the Lopez family was waiting. A fight started as soon as they got out of their cars, the affidavit said.

Almanza fought for a few seconds and then ran to his apartment to get an AR-15 rile from the kitchen closet, the affidavit said. When he came outside he fired a shot into the air. He then shot Mercedes Lopez once in the leg, the affidavit said.

Almanza told detectives that he did not see anyone else involved in the fight with a firearm, but he thought they might be armed, the affidavit said. He also said he did not realize police had arrived at the apartments after he grabbed his rifle.

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