A sheriff’s deputy in Texas who was an observant Sikh and garnered national attention for gaining permission to wear a turban as part of his uniform, was shot and killed on Friday near Houston in what officials described as an ambush during a traffic stop.
Maj. Mike Lee of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said that the deputy, Sandeep Dhaliwal, made the stop at 12:23 p.m. local time, and that nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.
The deputy was speaking with the driver for about two minutes and “it looked to be just conversational,” Major Lee said during a news conference, citing a review of dashboard camera footage from the traffic stop.
“There was no combat, no arguing,” the major said. “It looked like a routine traffic stop that we conduct every day.”
The driver remained in the car. The deputy started to head back to his patrol vehicle, and within three to five seconds, the door on the driver’s side of the stopped car opened and the driver, brandishing a gun, ran up behind the deputy and “basically ambushed” him, shooting him in the back of the head, Major Lee said.
A woman doing yard work who observed the traffic stop heard two gunshots and saw the gunman flee, the major said. She called 911 and law enforcement officers descended on the scene.
Major Lee said officers obtained an image of the gunman from the dashboard camera video and circulated it. The gunman was found inside a business about a quarter of a mile away.
“A deputy observed that he looked a little nervous and put him in custody,” the major said. “And that did turn out to be our shooter.”
A weapon believed to be used in the shooting was recovered. A woman who was a passenger in the suspect’s car was also taken into custody. The identities of the man and the woman were not immediately released. Major Lee said they were being interviewed by homicide detectives. There was no word on a possible motive for the shooting.
Deputy Dhaliwal garnered national attention in 2015 after the sheriff’s office allowed him to wear his traditional articles of faith, including a turban and a beard, while on patrol. Observant Sikhs wear turbans, covering their uncut hair, which they call kesh as part of their faith.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is the largest in the country to have “a full-time Sikh American officer with his articles of faith intact due to a religious accommodation exception to their dress code policy,” the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement praising the policy shift in 2015.
At a news conference, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Deputy Dhaliwal was a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, a father of three children and “was known to everybody as someone with a giving heart.”
He said the deputy had organized a tractor-trailer of supplies to be delivered from California after Hurricane Harvey, and had traveled to Puerto Rico to help a colleague with hurricane relief efforts there.
The sheriff said the deputy “represented his community with integrity, respect and pride.”
In a statement, the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, called Deputy Dhaliwal “a bold and groundbreaking law enforcement officer in the eyes of our county, our state, our nation.”
“The story of him putting the Sikh imperative of ‘seva’ — selfless service — on display as a peacekeeper went worldwide,” the mayor said. “In that role he was a walking lesson in tolerance and understanding, which are values Houstonians uphold here in the nation’s most diverse big city.”
One Twitter user, Gurpuneet Singh, described the deputy as an inspiration to the Sikh community.
Deputy 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,” Mr. Singh wrote.
Mariel Padilla, Vivian Ewing and Manny Fernandez contributed reporting.