Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal of the Harris County Sheriff Department in Texas was fatally shot on Sept. 27 at a traffic stop. Dhaliwal was the first Sikh to become a deputy in the greater Houston area and is being described as a trailblazer. The 10-year veteran, who is said to be in his mid 40s, is survived by his wife and three children. News reports say Dhaliwal’s funeral has been set for Oct. 2.
Dhaliwal’s killing has become a national story with all major media outlets covering it.
The announcement of Dhaliwal’s death was made by Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. He said that when Dhaliwal was headed back to his patrol car during the traffic stop, a man got out of the vehicle with a pistol and shot him from behind in a “cold-blooded manner, ambush style.”
A few hours after Gonzalez’s press conference, a tweet from his office said that Robert Solis, 47, was charged with capital murder. A weapon was recovered that deputies believe was used to kill Dhaliwal. KHOU 11 reports that Solis was given no bond during his court hearing late Sept. 27 night.
According to the report, although Solis did not appear in court because he was in the hospital on suicide watch, a judge went on with his hearing, describing him as a "severe and immediate danger to the community at large." The report added that in October 2002 Solis was sentenced to 20 years in jail for kidnapping his own son and shooting a man in the leg. He was released after serving 12 years of the 20-year prison sentence. In 2017, a warrant was issued after he was again accused of violating parole for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and weapon possession. He was still wanted on the warrant at the time of Dhaliwal’s death.
Meanwhile, the dashcam in Dhaliwal’s car captured the Sept. 27 incident when he was shot. A CNN report, quoting Maj. Mike Lee with the sheriff's office, said that the video shows Dhaliwal speaking with the driver.
According to the CNN report, Lee told CNN affiliate KTRK-TV that there was no argument, no combat. The driver's door was open at one point as the deputy and driver were talking, Lee said, adding that Dhaliwal shut the driver's door, as the driver remained in the vehicle.
The CNN report, further quoting Lee’s conversation with KTRK-TV “as Dhaliwal turned to walk back to his patrol car, the driver's side door opened and a man could be seen exiting the vehicle almost immediately running with a gun already out.” It was then that Solis shot Dhaliwal in the back of the head, after which he returned to his vehicle and drove away. A nearby resident saw the shooting and rushed to help the deputy, Lee said.
In 2015, the Harris County Sheriff's Office made an official policy that allowed Dhaliwal to wear his beard and turban on duty, according to CNN affiliate KTRK-TV. "As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement," Dhaliwal said at the time. "It will give me the chance to open up the conversation." He was the first Texas law enforcement officer allowed to wear a turban on duty.
Gonzalez, who called Dhaliwal a trailblazer who paved the way for many Sikh Americans to join the police force, said the fallen officer “wore the turban, he represented his community with integrity, respect and pride and he was respected by all.”
Adrian Garcia, Harris County police commissioner told CNN that Dhaliwal “had a heart of gold, he treated his brothers and sisters in law enforcement as if they were just brothers and sisters. He thought of them before he thought of himself. He thought of the broader community before he thought of himself.”
Garcia told CNN that prior to becoming a deputy, Dhaliwal was an entrepreneur with a trucking business. He said that when Dhaliwal came to know 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, he asked his father for permission. Dhaliwal sold his business to take lower pay as a detention officer and worked his way up to be a deputy, Garcia told CNN.
Dhaliwal’s death has left the department and community heartbroken.
KHOU 11 reported that throughout Sept. 29 afternoon and evening,” hundreds of people paid their respects to Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal at a memorial set up on the site of the traffic stop where he was shot.” According to the report, those who visited the memorial included neighbors, friends and family members.
One of the visitors to the memorial was the fallen officer’s father, Pyara Dhaliwal, ABC 13 reported. "I lost my hero," he told ABC 13. "Thank you to the sheriff's department, to the community, to the whole world for the support," he said. "The honor I get from the world, from this community, is priceless. But I am missing him and I will never get him back. But he is here with me."
Similarly, on Oct. 29, thousands of football fans stopped to remember Dhaliwal before the between the Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers. ABC 13 reports that “Dhaliwal's department photograph was displayed on the video board as the stadium became quiet.”
Earlier on Sept. 27, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a tweet said Dhaliwal "represented the diversity and inclusiveness of our community and everything that is good."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also released a statement on Sept. 27saying "this tragic loss is a grave reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every single day." He continued: "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.”
During the Sept. 27 press conference, Gonzalez kept referring to Dhaliwal as a trailblazer who paved the way for many Sikh Americans to join the police force. "He wore the turban, he represented his community with integrity, respect and pride and he was respected by all," Gonzalez said. "There are simply no words to adequately express our heartbreak, our sadness at this time," Gonzalez said.
The Harris County Sheriff Department’s Facebook page has several messages from community members, praising Dhaliwal and mourning his death. A video posted on the page, sent by an Harris County resident shows Dhaliwal sharing a light moment with a young boy. “He laughed and joked with all of us, and left a bright impression on my son who is deaf. We send our condolences to his family and the law enforcement community,” the sender said.
“Deputy Dhaliwal is an incredible loss not only to our HCSO family but to the entire community,” another post by the department said. “Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was an extraordinary individual, after Hurricane Harvey he collected supplies to help the community.” A video posted shows him thanking United Sikhs for their donations.
One Twitter user, Gurpuneet Singh, described the deputy as an inspiration to the Sikh community. Dhaliwal “brought about awareness in a wonderful way’’ within the sheriff’s office “and raised a new wave of pride in the generations to come,” Singh wrote.
The United Sikhs has set up an online fundraiser to support Dhaliwal’s wife and three young children “to help support their educational needs and to continue his aspirations to uplift humanity and his fellow first-responders.”
According to the United Sikh Facebook page, the group has raised $433,567 of $800,000 as of Sept. 30. Sikh was the Homeland Security Director for Sikhs United. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, he led a team volunteers to provide disaster relief to those in need across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. In Punjab, he led the effort to help us provide humanitarian aid for farmers working to survive a record drought.
A GoFundMe page created to collect funds for Dhaliwali’s family said that he “went above and beyond to serve the people of his community as well as communities in Puerto Rico, California, and India.”
Gonzalez told KHOU11 that “Post Harvey, when we needed the most help, he brought an 18 wheeler of people he gathered together who came all the way from California to deliver goods to our community. He told the channel that “When a colleague needed help because his relatives were in Puerto Rico after the hurricane there,” continued the sheriff, Deputy Dhaliwal “went on a trip with Commissioner Garcia to help support the Puerto Rican community.”
Last year, Corporal Ronil Singh, 33, who had been working with the Newman Police Department since July 2011, was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Christmas night. The Fiji-born Singh was shot by Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an undocumented immigrant.
Following Singh’s death, President Donald Trump didn’t waste time to politicize his killing by tweeting about the suspect’s illegal immigration status to highlight his fight over illegal immigration and border security, demanding that the Congress fund a U.S.-Mexico wall. He also invited his family to the White House for a visit and spent considerable time with them, prior to the 38th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, May 15.