Trailblazing Texas deputy who was first local Sikh officer 'ruthlessly' killed during traffic stop

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

Sandeep Dhaliwal, a sheriff's deputy in Harris County, Texas, who was the first Sikh to join the force, was shot and killed during a traffic stop near Houston on Friday.

A 47-year-old man wanted for a parole violation has been charged in the killing.

Dhaliwal, 42, was considered a trailblazer as the first Sikh deputy when he joined the county force 10 years ago. After his hiring, the sheriff's office adjusted its regulations to allow him to wear a beard and a turban as an observant Sikh.

Dhaliwal’s dashboard camera showed the officer speaking with the driver in an apparently normal tone with “no combat, no arguing,” Sheriff’s Maj. Mike Lee said.

After Dhaliwal turned to walk back to his patrol car, the driver got out of his vehicle and "almost immediately running with a gun already out,” Lee said, the Houston Chronicle reports. The driver shot the deputy at least twice from behind in the head, returned to his car and drove away.

Dhaliwal died after being airlifted to a hospital.

In this Aug. 30, 2015, photo, Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, center, is seen during a memorial for Deputy Darren Goforth in Houston. Dhaliwal was shot and killed while making a traffic stop Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, near Houston.

The killer “basically just shot him in a very ruthless, cold-blooded way,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. He called Dhaliwal "a hero, a trailblazer."

Robert Solis, 47, of Houston, was charged Friday night with capital murder in the killing. He was wanted for parole violation involving an alleged assault on a girlfriend. .

At a court hearing Saturday morning, prosecutors said a female passenger in Solis' car had been allowed to leave the vehicle before the incident. She later told officers that she went to her father's house, where Solis called her.

The unidentified woman, according to prosecutors, "said (Solis) had shot a police officer" but that she did not believe him.

Tipped by a witness, officers tracked Solis' car to a grocery parking lot in the area. Surveillance video showed that the suspect had ditched a handgun in a sidewalk trash can, where it was recovered by police.

The prosecutors said Solis, who was spotted near the store, became agitated when approached by police and refused to identify himself.

Dhaliwal, a father of three young children, joined the force 10 years ago when then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia sought to improve relations with the Sikh community after a domestic violence call at a Sikh family's home was badly handled by deputies.

"He was a walking lesson in tolerance and understanding, which are values Houstonians uphold here in the nation’s most diverse big city," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

This photo provided by Harris County Sheriff's office shows Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal was shot and killed while making a traffic stop Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 near Houston. Robert Solis, 47, of Houston, was charged Friday night with capital murder in the slaying. He was being held without bond in the Harris County Jail.

Sikhism, the world's fifth most popular religion, originated in the Punjab region of northern India near the end of the 15th century.

About 7,000 to 10,000 live in the Gulf Coast Region of the U.S., according to the Houston Chronicle. More than a half-dozen Sikh temples can be found in the region.

Dhaliwal was a member of the Sikh National Center in Houston, said its chair, Hardam Azad.

Azad said Dhaliwal often would speak with young people at the center, showing his sheriff’s badge. A widely-shared video of Dhaliwal posted on the Facebook page of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office showed him laughing as he allowed a boy to handcuff him and then unlock the handcuffs with the key.

“Ever since 9/11 happened, a lot of hate crimes have occurred against the Sikhs,” Azad said. “The way to counter that was exactly the kind of service Sandeep Dhaliwal provided to the larger community.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sandeep Dhaliwal shot: Houston Sikh officer killed in traffic stop