Man arrested in weekend slaying of Colorado police officer

Arvada Police Department
Arvada police officer Dillon Vakoff was killed Sunday, September 11, 2022.

Authorities have arrested a suburban Denver man on suspicion of first degree murder and other charges in the death of a 27-year-old police officer who was fatally shot while trying to break up a large family disturbance over the weekend.

Sonny Thomas Almanza, 31, of Arvada, was arrested by police late Sunday in connection with the shooting death of Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff, police said in a statement released Monday.

Vakoff died at a hospital Sunday after being shot while he and another officer responded to the disturbance that spilled into a street outside a housing complex. He was the second Arvada police officer to be killed in the line of duty in two years.

Almanza was taken into custody at a hospital where he is recuperating from injuries sustained while exchanging gunfire with Vakoff and another officer early Sunday. He will be transferred to Jefferson County Jail when he is released from the hospital, the Arvada department said.

Vakoff and his fellow officer had been dispatched to check on the well-being of two minor children when they encountered the disturbance, police said. A suspect opened fire, wounding a woman, at which point the officers returned fire, Police Chief Link Strate said at a news conference Sunday. The suspect then fired at Vakoff, Strate said.

The suspect was wounded by the officers and taken to a local hospital. The woman allegedly wounded by the suspect also was hospitalized and was expected to recover, police said.

Almanza was arrested for investigation of first-degree murder, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and two misdemeanor counts of child abuse, among other charges, police said. The department released no other details, saying its investigation was ongoing.

Court records show Almanza pleaded guilty in 2008 to a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon resulting in serious bodily injury in neighboring Adams County. He was sentenced to six years in youth prison in lieu of a 15-year adult prison sentence that was suspended.

Vakoff was the second officer to be slain in the line of duty in as many years in Arvada, a city located 7 miles (11 kilometers) northwest of downtown Denver. In 2021, Officer Gordon Beasley, 40, was shot and killed in an ambush by a gunman wielding an AR-style rifle in downtown Arvada.

Residents stunned by Vakoff's slaying adorned a police car parked outside Arvada City Hall with flowers, and the city lit a historic downtown water tower in blue overnight. Condolence messages came in from state police agencies and public officials, including Gov. Jared Polis.

Vakoff was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for six years, before joining the Arvada Police Department in 2019. He was training to be a SWAT officer, police said in a statement. Vakoff graduated from high school in Arvada in 2012.

“This is a tragic loss to this community, to this department, but most significantly to his family and loved ones,” Strate said Sunday. “His service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”