Ramirez: Life has been a challenge
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: Sergio Esteban Ramirez agreed to be interviewed for this story but declined a request to have his photo taken for the story.
GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado ” Sergio Esteban Ramirez says life “sucks” since he was wrongfully accused of shooting a Glenwood Springs police officer in July 2007.
“I can’t get a place to live because people think I’m going to shoot somebody,” he said.
Glenwood Springs Police Officer Dustin Marantino was shot in the chest the night of July 29, 2007 at a vehicle impound lot near the Glenwood Springs Airport. He survived due to a bulletproof vest and now works for the Rifle Police Department.
Authorities arrested Sergio “Smokey” Esteban Ramirez, 21, and Mauricio “Flaco” Villa Garcia Pena, 21, on Aug. 5 and Aug. 9 last year on suspicion of the shooting. On Aug. 22 last year, 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson said there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges and the two were subsequently released from jail.
Authorities have said there was no mistake in the arrests, the legal burden for probable cause was met and the arrests were carried out on warrants signed by a judge. They still won’t rule out either man as a suspect.
The media broadcast the two men’s photos as far away as California as suspects in the police officer shooting. Relatives in other states called his family aghast at seeing Ramirez’ photo on television.
Ramirez wants to move on with his life and was reluctant to answer questions, but he eventually agreed to an interview. He said he hasn’t been contacted or questioned by police since the shooting.
Since his ordeal, he’s lived with his mom and bounced between different places. An apartment manager in Rifle told him he wouldn’t be able to get an apartment anywhere in the area because of the arrest. Ramirez still lives with his girlfriend’s parents in Parachute. They have a 6-month old son, Alejandro.
“It’s difficult because I can’t have a decent life with my son Alejandro and my girlfriend because some stupid cops made a mistake,” he said.
For months, he said, he couldn’t get any jobs at all and ended up doing some masonry work for his father. No one else would call him back. Now the best job he’s gotten is a temporary landscaping job.
Ramirez said law enforcement arrested the wrong people and just won’t admit to making a mistake. He believes someone should apologize and pay him back for the time and money he lost not working.
His mother, Norma Ruiz, said the family spent more than $7,000 on legal fees “just to even get started.” She wonders if authorities would ever reimburse her or if they’ll ever solve the shooting. She knows things have been tough for her son, but she still worries and loses sleep too.
“I feel like I’m not going to have a closure to it until I see somebody that really did it pay for it,” she said. “That person’s still out there but every day I still think about this.”
Efforts to reach Garcia Pena were unsuccessful. But his attorney, Ted Hess, said Garcia Pena has also suffered.
Hess said Garcia Pena was “illegally detained” in Denver by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the shooting arrest because Garcia Pena pleaded guilty in a joyriding case. Garcia Pena had a greencard and ICE couldn’t detain or deport him for the joyriding case, Hess said, because he hadn’t yet been sentenced.
Hess said a judge agreed to let Garcia Pena withdraw his guilty plea and a new plea bargain was worked out that didn’t put him in immigration jeopardy. Hess said, “Had the shooting arrest never happened, then ICE would have just completely let the whole thing go.”
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said ICE detained Garcia Pena for about two weeks until deciding that the joyriding case didn’t meet the requirements for deportation. He added, “His detention by ICE was not illegal. He had already pleaded guilty.”
Garcia Pena currently drives trucks for the oil and gas industry.
Ramirez, a U.S. citizen, admits he’s gotten in some trouble before. In the past two years he’s had four criminal cases in the theft category, according to the Garfield County Combined Courts office. But he said he would never shoot at a cop. When the arrest happened, Ramirez called it an “eye-opener” to change his life.
He hasn’t gotten in trouble since around the time of the shooting. Ramirez hasn’t talked to Garcia Pena or many of his old friends.
“I don’t want to talk to them,” he said. “I have my life to live. I don’t have time to mess around with doing stupid stuff.”
These days he just goes to work, sleeps and takes his family out sometimes, he said. He and his girlfriend Berenice Sostenes hope to get married, find their own place to rent and one day buy a home. They’ve been together about three years.
“We’re trying to get stable, but it’s kind of hard to do that,” Berenice said. “We would like to have our own place someday where we can call it our own and just be happy without society thinking my boyfriend is a menace. … Seriously he’s this really nice guy and since that happened it made everybody look at him like he is a cop-shooter.”
Berenice said she still believes Anthony “Speedy” Villegas ” who she used to date ” told police it was Ramirez and Garcia Pena who shot the officer. She thinks law enforcement should have investigated more fully before making the arrests.
“Why can’t they just look at the facts before even arresting him?” she said. “They didn’t even care about investigating the case, they just automatically expected it was him.”
Authorities arrested Villegas on outstanding warrants just prior to arresting Ramirez and Garcia Pena. They said he knew something about the shooting. Villegas is being held at the Garfield County Jail for an unrelated case. Public defender James Conway said Villegas had no information about the shooting and he declines to be interviewed.
To the theory that authorities based the arrests on a false tip from Villegas, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said, “They are entitled to their opinions based on what they believe they know.”
Sergio and Berenice are just trying to move on.
“I believe in Sergio and I love him a lot so I’m with him through anything ” the good times and bad times,” Berenice said. “I would just hope that one day this case would be solved and hopefully they could find the shooter. … We still have our heads up and we still have hope.”
Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121
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