A Texas sheriff’s deputy who has been dubbed a hero for helping those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, has died after a driver shot him in the back of the head during a traffic stop in a cul-de-sac near Houston on Friday afternoon.
Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, was the first Sikh man to join the force 10 years ago and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez called him ‘a trailblazer’ who was active in the community as a philanthropist.
Robert Solis, 47, is suspected of shooting the married father-of-three who wore the traditional turban and beard of the Sikh religion after former sheriff, Adrian Garcia, implemented a religious accommodation policy that allowed him to do so.
Solis, of Mission Bend in Houston, was charged with capital murder the same night and was wanted on a warrant for violating parole in 2017 when he was accused of possessing a prohibited weapon and threatening his girlfriend.
In 2002 he was sentenced to 29 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon but was released after 12 years in 2014 after which he was also accused of drunk driver but was not returned to prison.
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The officer had stopped a vehicle with two people inside when one of the occupants was able to leave the vehicle, approach the deputy from behind ‘basically just shot him in a very ruthless, cold-blooded way,’ twice, Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez said.
He added the execution was carried out ‘ambush-style’ and a female witness who was in her yard at the time of the shooting said she saw the suspect flee in a getaway vehicle.
Dhaliwal’s dashboard camera captured video showing Dhaliwal speaking with the driver in what appeared to be a conversational tone with ‘no combat, no arguing,’ Sheriff’s Maj. Mike Lee, who arrived on the scene after the shooting, said.
The driver’s door was opened at one point, and Dhaliwal shut it as the driver remained in the vehicle.
When Dhaliwal turned to walk back to his patrol car, the driver steps from the car ‘almost immediately running with a gun already out,’ Lee said about the video.
The driver shot the deputy from behind, hitting him in the back of the head. The driver got back in his car and drove away.
A deputy a short time later found and arrested a nervous man matching the description of the driver in a business at a nearby strip shopping center, Lee said.
The weapon was found on the scene of the shopping plaza.
A woman believed to have been a passenger in the car also was taken into custody.
Solis was on parole until 2022 for the aggravated kidnapping conviction in 2002.
Gonzelez recounted how Dhaliwal worked with United Sikhs, an international nonprofit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organization affiliated with the United Nations.
Dhaliwal worked with the nonprofit to organize the donation of supplies for first responders after Hurricane Harvey devastated the county.
He also went to Puerto Rico to help with relief after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
‘He was a hero. Deputy Dhaliwal was a trailblazer,’ Gonzalez said. ‘There are no words to speak to how heartbroken we are, how devastated.’
Many law enforcement colleagues cried as they escorted his body to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences on Friday.
Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement on Friday saying he and his wife Celia joined ‘Texans in mourning the loss’ of the deputy.
‘It is with heavy hearts that we send our deepest sympathies to the deputy’s family, friends, and his brothers and sisters in law enforcement,’ Abott said.
‘This tragic loss is a grave reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every single day. I thank the officers who bravely responded to apprehend the suspect, and I assure you that the state of Texas is committed to bringing this killer to justice.
‘Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the family and the entire Harris County Sheriff’s Department.’
‘Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal beamed with pride when the then-Sheriff announced he could wear his Sikh turban and a beard while on duty’, the department remembered in a tweet Friday.
He told an audience at the time: ‘As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement. It will give me the chance to open up the conversation.’
Garcia shared that he had sold his trucking business to became a detention officer and accepted a lower pay in order to work his way up.
Garcia said he did it: ‘When he knew that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office needed someone like him to build bridges between the Sikh community and the sheriff’s office because of a mishap that had happened prior.’
His colleagues said due to his efforts there are now other deputies from the religion which is the fifth most popular in the world.
Gonzalez told ABC 13 that Dhaliwal consoled the community with hugs when Deputy Darren Goforth was killed in August 2015.
Dhaliwal is the second Texas deputy to die while making a traffic stop this year.
El Paso County Deputy Peter Herrera was fatally shot during a March traffic stop in San Elizario, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Both occupants of the car were charged with capital murder and await trial.
In this August 29, 2015, photo (left), Dhaliwal gets a blue ribbon pinned to him during a vigil at the Chevron station in Houston, where Harris County deputy Darren Goforth was shot and killed the night before while he was refueling his vehicle. Right he hugs a child
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