First Sikh cop in Texas shot dead
Robert Soli, driver of the car 42-year-old Dhaliwal had pulled over for checking, was charged with murder and faces the death penalty if found guilty.Updated: Sep 29, 2019 01:10 IST
Sandeep Dhaliwal, who made history as the first Sikh police officer in a Texas state county in the US 10 years ago, was fatally shot and killed in an ambush while making a traffic stop near Houston on Saturday.
Robert Soli, driver of the car 42-year-old Dhaliwal had pulled over for checking, was charged with murder and faces the death penalty if found guilty.
A pall of gloom descended on Dhaliwal’s ancestral village in Punjab’s Kapurthala district after news of his death reached there.
Dhaliwal had migrated to the US in 1995 from Dhaliwal Bet village. One of his relatives said he was planning to arrive in India in October to celebrate Diwali.
He became a national icon in the US when he became the first Sikh deputy for Harris county and attracted more attention when he convinced the police department to allow him to wear a turban and a beard to work.
There were no indications police were looking at Dhaliwal’s killing as a hate crime even though there was no word about the suspect’s motives. The Sikh community in the US has been the target of bullying, ethnic slurs and violence, such as the killing of six people at a Gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2013 by a white supremacist.
He is survived by wife and three children, and a brother.
“He was on a traffic stop,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a news conference. “The preliminary information that we have at this time is that a male suspect exited the vehicle armed with a pistol and, in a cold-blooded murder, ambush-style shot Deputy Dhaliwal from behind.”
Dhaliwal had joined the police force when it reach out to the Sikh community to diversify the force after a botched domestic violence call at the Sikh home.
Police said there were two occupants in the car stopped by Dhaliwal. Police dashboard camera recording showed there was “no combat, no argument”, according to an officer, Mike Lee. The driver’s door had opened at one stage, and Dhaliwal had shut it.
After he turned around and walked to his car, the driver came out to the car and was “almost immediately running with a gun already out”, Lee said. The driver came up behind Dhaliwal and shot him in the back of the head, and the camera recorded him getting back into the car and speeding away.
Solis, 47, was arrested at a nearby shopping centre. Police said he has a history of crimes that includes convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated kidnapping and driving while intoxicated.
Gonzalez told reporters about Dhaliwal’s work for a non-profit and collecting supplies and donations for the first responders impacted by Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017 and that he went to Puerto Rico to help after it was devastated y Hurricane Maria a few months later.
“He was a hero,” the sheriff said. “Deputy Dhaliwal was a trailblazer.”
In Kapurthala, relatives and villagers assembled at the home of Dhaliwal’s uncle Kartar Singh to mourn the death of the police officer.
His cousin Joginder Singh said the family came to know about the shocking news on Saturday morning through a phone call from a relative. “Dhaliwal was a brave and cheerful person.”
Joginder said Dhaliwal had visited the village last year when he came to India to immerse the ashes of his mother at Kiratpur Sahib. He was planning to arrive in Dhaliwal Bet on October 13 to celebrate Diwali, he said.
First Published: Sep 29, 2019 01:10 IST