Friday, March 6, 2009

Officer shot, suspect killed

One our our Houston Heros was shot last night in the line of duty. My best to him for a speedy recovery.

Michael Paulsen Chronicle
Scene near 9338 East Avenue O where a police officer was shot Thursday night in Houston.

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A Houston police officer remains in critical condition but is expected to survive after being shot in the face while attempting to serve a narcotics warrant at an east Houston residence late Thursday.

In the gunbattle that followed that shooting, a suspect at the home in the 9300 block of East Avenue O was killed after three officers, including the wounded lead officer, opened fire, the Houston Police Department said.

The undercover narcotics officer, Rick Salter, was listed in critical but stable condition after surgery at Ben Taub General Hospital.

The incident is still under investigation, said Chief Harold Hurtt.

At least one gun was found at the residence. The chief did not know if other guns or drugs were found.

Hurtt said the wounded officer is 54 and has been with the department for 28 years. He is married and has two adult children.

On Thursday night, Salter and two other officers approached the house near the Houston Ship Channel about 9:05 p.m. They were dressed in black shirts bearing the word, "POLICE" on them. As they removed burglar bars from a window, they yelled "Police! Search Warrant!" twice, said HPD spokesman John Cannon.

That's when the suspect fired multiple shots at the lead officer, Salter, striking him in the jaw, Cannon said.

All three officers fired at the suspect. He was pronounced dead at the scene, his gun nearby, police said. The body was taken to the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.

Police later discovered surveillance cameras feeding video to a television at least 55 inches wide inside the home, Cannon said. The recordings will become a part of the investigation.

"We believe he knew exactly what was going on,'' Cannon added, noting that such set-ups are not uncommon in homes where narcotics operations are conducted.

"When suspects see police, they try to get rid of the drugs,'' Cannon said.

The suspect's 5-year-old and 5-month-old sons were in the home at the time of the shooting and were discovered in a back bedroom by officers. They were released to their mother pending further investigation, Cannon said.

Devastated family members of the dead suspect said the man had no drug ties.

Olivia Aviles said the shootings took place at her sister’s home. She believed her brother-in-law was killed. She said her sister’s husband was at the home with his two young sons when the incident occurred. Aviles said her sister was not at the residence.

Aviles said her brother-in-law did not do drugs. She said she couldn’t understand why police entered the home.

“I don’t understand,” she said repeatedly with tears in her eyes. “I’m her sister; I would know something.”

Aviles’ husband, who declined to give his first name, said his brother-in-law was in the back room of the home playing a Nintendo Wii when the officers entered.

Aviles’ husband, who lives about a block away, said he came to the home after hearing the gunshots. He said he entered the residence and saw two officers standing over the wounded officer.

The family, he said, was immediately rushed from the home by authorities.

The mood was somber late Thursday as investigators continued to canvass the scene. The neighborhood is pocked with boarded-up homes and graffiti.

At Ben Taub, Mayor Bill White and Hurtt joined dozens of officers. Many gathered near the emergency room and waited for news of the wounded officer. Dozens of patrol cars lined the service road near the trauma center.

Doctors met with Salter's wife and updated her on his condition late Thursday, officers said.

"Right now it's still touch and go, but we're pretty optimistic,'' said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union.

As with all officer-involved shootings, the incident is being investigated by HPD's homicide department, Internal Affairs and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

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