Editor’s Note: James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesAGagliano. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
A member of my family was brutally slain in Texas on Friday afternoon. We weren’t blood relatives. We had never actually met. But he remains as much a family member to me as does anyone who has sworn the law enforcement oath to protect and serve.
The murder has affected me as deeply as if we had been partners on the job. I am angry and deeply saddened. I am grieving. And I want answers, even as I know that no satisfactory answer is possible.
Serving as a sworn peace officer with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was executing a traffic stop Friday when he pulled over 47-year-old Robert Solis. According to police reports, Solis followed the deputy back to his patrol car, then pumped two bullets into him – including a fatal shot into the back of Dhaliwal’s head.
The deputy never stood a chance.
I am heartbroken, and my eyes fill with tears as I pound the keyboard. Why?
Authorities have since announced that Solis had an active parole violation warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon dating back to 2017. Solis must have known the deputy would run his name, discover the parole violation and then call for backup, or immediately take him into custody. And it appears that Solis committed a despicable and cowardly act to avoid being brought in.
As Major Mike Lee of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office told reporters this weekend, Solis “probably knew he was going back to jail and did not want to go back to jail.”
Solis was arrested about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the shooting. He has been charged with capital murder in the ambush of Dhaliwal. A judge has ordered him held without bond, and his next court appearance is scheduled for Monday. (I tried to get comment from Solis, but it’s not clear whether he has a lawyer yet.)
Since Solis committed his alleged crime in Texas, the death penalty is on the table – but an execution won’t bring back Dhaliwal, a married father of three and a beloved law enforcement officer who was widely respected and described as a beacon in one of Texas’ largest communities.
Community members have begun sharing stories about what made Deputy Dhaliwal so special. He has been described as a pioneer, and with good reason: Sandeep Dhaliwal was a member of the Sikh religion, and five years ago, he proudly became the first member in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to wear a turban and a beard while in uniform.
Some may think that his religion and uniform may have set Dhaliwal apart from fellow officers – that maybe the relaxed grooming standard and the ever-present dastar his religion required him to wear had caused friction within the department or made his policing job more difficult in an east Texas town.
Yet Deputy Dhaliwal was a wildly popular member of the sheriff’s office, unswerving in his duties. Sikhs in India are legendary for laying down their own lives to protect worshipers and ensure religious freedoms. Seen in this light, it was in Deputy Dhaliwal’s blood to become a sworn peace officer in America.
And Dhaliwal was a Texan through and through. Stories abound in his community about his love for the Lone Star State, its traditions and its citizenry. It appears that his fellow Texans overwhelmingly returned that love in equal measure – likely because Dhaliwal had a big heart. He was generous and devoted to volunteerism. It seems he never found a just cause he couldn’t get behind.
His untimely death now leaves an enormous hole in the community.
What lesson can we learn from the death of a service martyr like Sandeep Dhaliwal? One natural response might be to conclude that this is a dangerous time to be a cop. Just this Sunday morning, an officer with the New York Police Department was shot to death while investigating gang activity in the Bronx.
But law enforcement has always been a dangerous line of work. To date, Dhaliwal was the 23,854th member of the profession to perish in the line of duty in our country’s history, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
But while we honor Dhaliwal’s sacrifice and cherish his memory, let’s not view his service as an abstraction. Let’s acknowledge that we – the American family – have all lost a brave warrior and family member: one of us.
Sandeep Dhaliwal embodied the best of his Sikh traditions. He embodied the best of Texas law enforcement. And he embodied the best of what makes us uniquely American: our diversity, and our commitment to each other.
Amid the sadness, that is what we should all celebrate.