Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, the Harris County Texas Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop, made a historical first on the department when he was allowed to wear his turban on patrol because of his Sikh religion.
“Deputy Dhaliwal is known to everybody as someone with a giving heart,” the sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, said in a news conference. He was the “first member of the Sikh community to become a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy. He wore the turban. He represented his community with integrity, respect and pride and… he was respected by all.”
Dhaliwal’s death left the department and community heartbroken, as he was remembered as a trailblazing law enforcement officer who was dedicated to service. Authorities say that Dhaliwal was “ambushed” by a suspect with a violent criminal history who ran up behind him during a traffic stop.
“I’m sad to share with you that we’ve lost one of our own. Our @HCSOTexas was unable to recover from his injuries. There are no words to convey our sadness. Please keep his family and our agency in your prayers,” Gonzalez announced on Twitter. The Sheriff’s Department shared this heartwarming video of Deputy Dhaliwal with a young boy. “This video captures the essence of who Deputy Dhaliwal was. He touched countless of lives along the way. A legacy that will never be forgotten. We will aspire to be as good as he was,” the sheriff wrote.
In the press conference, the Sheriff called Dhaliwal “a hero, a respected member of the community and a trailblazer.” Houston’s mayor wrote that Dhaliwal “represented the diversity and inclusiveness of our community and everything that is good.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sandeep Dhaliwal, Who Worked for Harris County Sheriff’s Office for 10 Years, Once Urged People to Be Proud of Wearing ‘Blue’
According to Click 2, Dhaliwal joined the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in 2008, when he started serving as a detention officer before becoming a deputy four years later. In the press conference, Gonzalez confirmed that Dhaliwal had served on the department for 10 years.
When Deputy Darren Goforth was murdered in Harris County, Dhaliwal was “consoling his community with hugs” and told ABC13: “He’s one of the reasons I am in uniform today.”
According to the television station, Dhaliwal visited Goforth’s memorial daily and urged people to support law enforcement officers more visibly.
“Just wear blue. Wear blue and be proud of that,” Dhaliwal said to ABC13 then. “And that shows support to law enforcement. Simple as that.”
2. Dhaliwal Was Approved to Wear the Symbols of His Sikh Faith, Including the Turban
In 2015, Deputy Dhaliwal was allowed to wear his beard and turban (called a dastaar) while on patrol as a deputy because they are required by his Sikh faith, the television station reported. He was the first Texas law enforcement officer allowed to wear a turban on duty.
“Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal beamed with pride when then-Sheriff @AdrianGarciaHTX announced he could wear his Sikh turbin and a beard while on duty,” The Harris County Sheriff’s Department wrote on Twitter. According to Click2Houston, for the first six years on the force, Dhaliwal couldn’t wear his beard and turban but the sheriff worked to change the policy alongside the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The Sikh Coalition explains, “The founder of the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak, was born in the region of Punjab, South Asia, in 1469 CE. He lived a life of spirituality, service, and honesty, and the disciples who began to follow his teachings came to be known as Sikhs.”
According to the Sikh Coalition, “Perhaps the most visible aspect of the Sikh identity is the turban, which can be worn by men and women alike. The turban was historically worn by royalty in South Asia, and the Gurus adopted this practice as a way of asserting the sovereignty and equality of all people. For a Sikh, wearing a turban asserts a public commitment to maintaining the values and ethics of the tradition, including service, compassion, and honesty.”
“Our city’s grief is boundless in the rare instance that a first responder in our region dies in the line of duty. But the killing of Harris County Sheriff’s Dep. Sandeep Dhaliwal today brings with it an exceptional horror,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “He was a bold and groundbreaking law enforcement officer in the eyes of our county, our state, our nation, and around the world, because he sought and received permission to patrol while wearing the outward signs of his Sikh faith, including a turban and beard.”
Turner added: “The story of him putting the Sikh imperative of ‘seva’ — selfless service — on display as a peacekeeper went worldwide. 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. I send my deepest condolences to the deputy’s family, to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.”
ABC13 reported that Dhaliwal was “an entrepreneur who sold a lucrative business in order to go into law enforcement.”
“This tragic loss is a grave reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every single day. 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,” the Texas governor said of Dhaliwal’s death.
3. The Slain Deputy Helped the Community During Hurricane Harvey & Flew to Puerto Rico to Help There Too
When Houston and surrounding areas suffered the ravages of Hurricane Harvey, Dhaliwal was there to help the community.
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,” Gonzalez recalled. “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.”
Many stories were told about Deputy Dhaliwal, said Gonzalez. “We try to reflect on the life he lived and not how he died. Truly, he died a hero. He died serving the Harris County community…”
David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, told KHOU: “He’s as great as they come. This is a very trying time, it’s very tough on us, but we’re going to continue to do our jobs.”
4. Dhaliwal, a Respected Member of the Force, Leaves Behind a Wife & Children
He was also a husband and a father of three. Dhaliwal was in his early 40s, according to KHOU-TV.
The sheriff described him as “a well-liked and respected deputy who was a leader with the department.”
“He was a father, I believe of three children. He was a husband, a brother, and a son,” Gonzalez said.
5. A Suspect Ambushed Deputy Dhaliwal as the Deputy Walked Back to His Car After a Routine Traffic Stop, Authorities Say
Major Mike Lee of the Houston County Sheriff’s Department said that Deputy Dhaliwal made a “routine traffic stop” on September 27, 2019. “He was shot and has succumbed to his injuries.” The suspect has now been identified.
Dhaliwal first called dispatch at 12:23 p.m. At 12:26, the dispatcher checked in with him, and he updated his situation and said he was fine. When Lee arrived at the scene, he looked at the dashcam video. Thus, in a press conference, Lee was able to describe what he saw on it:
“Deputy Dhaliwal had the driver’s door open speaking to the driver….it looked to just be conversational. There was no combat, no arguing. It looked like a routine traffic stop that we conduct every day,” said Lee.
He said that the deputy shut the door and began to walk back to his patrol car. Within 3 to 4 seconds, the driver’s door opened. The suspect exited the car “almost immediately running with the gun already out and ran up from behind and basically ambushed Deputy Dhaliwal and struck him in the back of the head,” alleged Lee.
There was a neighbor a few houses over who was outside doing yardwork. She saw the traffic stop occur but then she heard two gunshots and saw the suspect “running from the scene and get into a getaway car and leave the scene,” Lee said. She called 911 and ran over to check on Deputy Dhaliwal.
A photo of the suspect was taken from the dashcam video and distributed. The suspect was located at a nearby business a quarter mile from the scene. A deputy noticed he looked nervous and put him in custody, Lee said.
The weapon was recovered in the same parking lot of that nearby business. “We also have a female in custody that was believed to be the passenger of the car,” Lee said.
Gonzalez also described the shooting as an ambush, saying, “he was on a traffic stop…a male suspect exited the vehicle armed with a pistol and in a cold-blooded manner, ambush-style, shot Deputy Dhaliwal from behind.”
KHOU-TV reported that the suspect is a 47-year-old ex-con with an extremely serious past including a conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was released in 2014 after serving only 12 years of a 29-year prison sentence, the television station reported. He was then accused of drunk driving but a parole board didn’t send him back for prison. 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.
This post is being updated as more information is learned about Sandeep Dhaliwal.