Man faces state, federal charges in death of Houston officer

HOUSTON (AP) — A man accused of fatally shooting a Houston police officer during a domestic disturbance call is facing both state and federal charges and could face the death penalty, authorities announced.

In state court, Elmer Manzano is facing a capital murder charge for the death of 65-year-old Sergeant Harold Preston. Manzano, 51, has also been charged in state court with attempted capital murder for shooting and injuring Officer Courtney Waller in addition to aggravated assault for shooting and injuring his 14-year-old son.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Manzano, who is from El Salvador, was in the country illegally.

United States (US) Attorney Ryan Patrick announced that his office in Houston also filed federal charges of an alien in possession of a firearm and a felon in possession of a firearm. Manzano had a prior felony conviction for evading in a motor vehicle in Harris County, where Houston is located, and two misdemeanor convictions in Dallas County for assault of a family member.

“This is a very evil person,” Acevedo said of Manzano.

Manzano, Waller and Manzano’s son remained hospitalised, all in stable condition, Acevedo said.

Houston Police officers escort the body of Sergeant Harold Preston from Memorial Hermann Hospital to the medical examiner’s office in Houston. PHOTO: AP

Court records did not list an attorney for Manzano.

Prosecutors filed a motion asking that Manzano be held without bond once he is released from the hospital. The district attorney’s (DA) office said it will probably seek the death penalty against Manzano, but no final decision has been made yet.

The shooting happened on Tuesday morning when officers were called to an apartment in southwest Houston after Manzano’s wife reached out to police on a domestic disturbance call. She was moving out of her apartment but Manzano would not let her in, police said.

The teenage son and police went to the apartment and when he opened the door, Manzano came out and began shooting at officers, according to police.

Acevedo said Preston, who was shot multiple times, was able to return fire and hit Manzano in the abdomen. Manzano barricaded himself in the apartment but later surrendered to authorities.

Preston, who had been with Houston police for 41 years, was about two weeks away from retiring, Acevedo said. Waller has been with the police department for three years.

Before the shooting, Manzano’s wife filed a family disturbance report with police and officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at the apartment.

Acevedo said as part of his agency’s investigation, it will review whether charges could have been filed against Manzano prior to the shooting.

“Based on what I have seen so far in our review we did our best to deal with what we knew at the time and so did the DA’s office,” Acevedo added. “We did not have enough for them to accept charges.”

Police will also review whether letting Manzano’s son open the door to the apartment was the best approach by officers at the scene, he said.

“But right now, let us just be real clear. There is only one person responsible for the death of a police officer…and that person…is Manzano, solely Manzano,” Acevedo noted.

The shooting came amid an uptick in domestic violence in Houston and other cities as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to spend more time in their homes.

Acevedo said Manzano prevented his wife from leaving him by threatening to reveal to authorities that she was in the US illegally.