Illegal immigrant from Mexico kills Houston police officer
Anne Marie Kilday:
After a capital-murder charge was filed against an illegal immigrant in connection with the death of Officer Rodney Johnson, Chief Harold Hurtt firmly defended the Houston Police Department's policy of not enforcing immigration laws.
"If the government would fulfill their responsibility of protecting the border," he told reporters Friday afternoon, "we probably would not be standing here today."
The urgency of the immediate loss highlighted a breakdown prompted by several factors — the loose nets of an immigration system that allowed a deported man to slip back into the country illegally, a hidden gun that Johnson overlooked inside the suspect's waistband and a means of restraint that somehow allowed the handcuffed man to reach that weapon and pull the trigger.
Early Friday morning, the suspect, Juan Leonardo Quintero, a 32-year-old Mexican national, appeared briefly in the 248th state District Court, where he was informed of the charge against him.
Homicide Sgt. Mark Newcomb said officers "got a full confession" from Quintero.
Meanwhile today, a schedule of services for Johnson was released. Visitation for family and friends will be at Grace Community Church, 14505 Gulf Freeway, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday.
Funeral services are scheduled at Grace Community Church at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Burial will follow at Houston National Cemetery at 10410 Veterans Memorial Drive.
As the investigation of Thursday's shooting near Hobby Airport continued, homicide Capt. Dale Brown said Johnson was shot after a pat-down search of Quintero, while the suspect was handcuffed in the back seat of his patrol car.
"The officer apparently just missed the weapon during the pat-down search," Brown said.
Johnson had stopped Quintero for driving a white Ford pickup at 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, Brown said. The officer decided to arrest Quintero for driving without a license or any other form of identification, then handcuffed Quintero, conducted the pat down and placed him in the back of his patrol car.
Johnson then called for a wrecker driver to tow the truck Quintero had been driving.
Quintero had been working for a landscaping company in the Deer Park area and was driving a company Ford double-cab pickup, Brown said.
Brown added that Quintero had concealed a 9 mm handgun in the waistband of his pants. Johnson was fatally wounded by four shots to the head and face.
Although Quintero was handcuffed behind his back, Brown said, he apparently manipulated his hands under his legs to the front of his body so he could fire the gun.
Brown said that some suspects "are very limber and can manipulate the handcuffs and bring them up. The other possibility is that also a very limber person can get the cuffs below the legs and bring them to the front."
He said it is "more likely" that Quintero had managed to bring the cuffs below his legs and then reached for his gun.
When witnesses arrived at the scene, Brown said, "They saw him with the gun, with the slide open, in front of him."
A tow truck driver who responded to Johnson's call was the first person to arrive on the scene, Brown said. The driver approached Johnson's patrol car, observed him "in some distress" and Quintero then fired one time, missing the wrecker driver, Brown said.
Johnson also had managed to press an emergency button that alerted dispatch something was wrong.
Shortly after that, other officers arrived, Brown said.
The officers who then arrested him placed the handcuffs "behind him," Brown said.
Brown said the suspect did not tell investigators why he fired.
"Nothing definitive ... ," Brown said. "My personal belief is that he was upset about being arrested rather than being written a ticket. And I believe he was upset, because he knew he was going to be discovered as a deported alien, and that he was going to spend several years in a federal prison before being deported."
Quintero was deported as an illegal felon in 1999, following a charge of indecency with a child, Brown said.
Court records show Quintero was given deferred adjudication in that case. Brown said Quintero's previous criminal record included an arrest for driving while intoxicated, for driving with a suspended license and for failing to stop and give information after an automobile accident.
The weapon Quintero used was believed to belong to his wife, Brown said.
Quintero was in the pickup with his wife's two daughters and a co-worker, Brown said. He had picked the girls up from school and was taking them home, Brown said.
But the arrest of an illegal immigrant renewed debate among local members of Congress over enforcement of immigration laws, in particular Hurtt's policy of prohibiting HPD officers from questioning suspects about their residency.
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