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Date Posted: Friday, October 04, 03:14:23am
Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, Houston Police Officer killed during routine daytime traffic stop;
His death comes a decade after becoming the force’s FIRST Sikh and pushing
for a historic expansion of religious rights in the department. …
October 1, 2019
A Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy was gunned down during a mid-day traffic stop on Friday, a decade after becoming the force’s first Sikh and pushing for a historic expansion of religious rights in the department.
Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, pulled over a vehicle around 12:45 p.m. in the 14800 block of Willancy Court in the Cypress area. Harris County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Mike Lee said dashcam video shows Dhaliwal and the suspect, still in his car, having a conversation with no sign of confrontation.
A few seconds after Dhaliwal returned to his squad car, the suspect ran up and shot him in the head multiple times, Lee said. Dhaliwal was airlifted to the hospital, where he died.
Robert Solis, 47, was charged late Friday with capital murder in the case.
Dhaliwal was the county’s first Sikh deputy when he joined the force 10 years ago, and became a national figure after convincing the department to allow him to wear religious attire and grow a beard while on patrol.
“He was a hero, a trailblazer,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said of Dhaliwal, who he considered a close friend. “There are no words to speak to how heartbroken we are, how devastated.”
A woman who was outside gardening heard the shot and saw the suspect run to a getaway car. Lee said the suspect then went to a store nearby. After a brief search, authorities detained Solis, who has a criminal record that includes convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated kidnapping and driving while intoxicated.
Dhaliwal, a father of three young children, began his career in law enforcement out of a desire to serve after then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia reached out to strengthen the department’s relationship with the Sikh community after deputies botched a domestic violence call at a Sikh family’s home.
Then-spokesman Alan Bernstein, who now works for Mayor Sylvester Turner, said Garcia met with Sikh leaders and encouraged Sikhs to apply to the department. Sikhism is centered around peace, equality and “love-inspired service” — ideals that Dhaliwal believed were central to police work. His father was a police officer in India before the family moved to America.
He decided to leave what others described as a “lucrative” trucking job to become a civilian detention officer. He later earned his peace officer’s license and became the first Sikh deputy in Harris County.
“As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement,” Dhaliwal told NBC News in 2015. “Serving in the police force is natural to us, as Sikhs value service.”
Yet as an observant Sikh, Dhaliwal believed he must grow out his beard and wear a turban, and so successfully pushed Garcia to implement a religious accommodation policy that allowed him to do so.
Advocates said Dhaliwal sent a powerful message to religious minority groups, particularly the roughly
500,000 Sikhs living in America: They can serve their communities without compromising their faith. …
Dhaliwal embraced the puzzled looks and questions from the public that his appearance drew, Bernstein said.
“Sandeep said, “I’m going to be a conversation piece,’ ” he recalled. “It will be a way of opening up a conversation so I can explain to people what Sikhs are all about.”
Others remembered him for his charity. During Hurricane Harvey, Dhaliwal worked with a national Sikh group to deliver truckloads of donated good to first responders, and also traveled to Puerto Rico to assist the family of a sheriff's office colleague after a hurricane.
He was killed roughly 1 mile from where Deputy Darren Goforth, another 10-year force veteran, was fatally shot in a 2015 ambush. Dhaliwal was later instrumental in having a park renamed after Goforth.
Harris County residents shared stories and photos of Dhaliwal with their children, and others, including Turner, described him as emblematic of America’s highest ideals.
“He was a walking lesson in tolerance and understanding,” Turner said.
Dhaliwal was also very active at his Gurudwara, and his house of worship held a special ceremony after he was deputized.
As news of the shooting spread, that same community met to pray for his recovery. Soon, they were mourning.
“He was very, very, very important,” Sampuran Singh said as he fought back tears. “He was always willing to do what the community needed him to do.”
Others remembered him as a quiet but confident leader, not necessarily outspoken but carrying “a big stick.”
He lead youth services at the temple, and before his death was planning to form a bus service for elderly Sikh members who couldn’t get transportation to the temple, Singh said. But he also had ambitions in the police force.
“He wanted to get to that point where he could be the sheriff himself,” said Paul Singh. “It looked like he was made for that.”
Christina Garza, a former media representative for the sheriff’s office, similarly recalled his ambition in law enforcement.
On Friday, she sobbed as she scrolled through texts from her friend of a decade.
“I’m devastated,” she said. “He did not deserve this. He was the kindest person you would ever meet. He called everybody friend, ‘My friend. My friend.’”
When Garza later left the department to work for the Houston FBI, she sent him a departing message letting him know that she admired him, his dedication and his courage.
She called him a “rock star” in several texts, and at one point he responded: “No rock star. Still a cop and will always be a cop,” he wrote.
Staff writers Jay R. Jordan, Zach Despart and Gabrielle Banks contributed to this report.
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