Sandeep Dhaliwal, who made headlines after gaining a religious exemption to wear a turban as part of his police uniform.
Sandeep Dhaliwal, who made headlines after gaining a religious exemption to wear a turban as part of his police uniform, was shot and killed on Friday Image Credit: New York Times

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sandeep Dhaliwal, who was fatally shot Friday during a traffic stop near Houston, used his role as a sheriff's deputy on the Harris County force area to educate others about Sikhism.

The 42-year-old Sikh American and 10-year sheriff's veteran was the first Sikh deputy in Harris County and called by the sheriff a "hero" and "trailblazer."

A 47-year-old man with an extensive criminal history has been charged in his death.

Dhaliwal said in a 2015 interview that "serving in the police force is natural" to Sikhs who value service.

Dhaliwal's father was a police officer in India before moving his family to the United States.

Sandeep Dhaliwal, who made headlines after gaining a religious exemption to wear a turban as part of his police uniform, was shot and killed on Friday near Houston in what officials described as an "ambush" during a traffic stop, US media reported.

The Chronicle, a local paper, reported that Deputy Dhaliwal, 42, was shot and killed after a traffic stop at 12:45 pm local time on Friday.

The Sheriff's Office deputy, who works for Harris County, was gunned down during a mid-day traffic stop.

Sandeep Dhaliwal 000411
Sandeep Dhaliwal touched many lives while serving people, said his department. Image Credit: Twitter

Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, pulled over a vehicle around 12:45 p.m. in the 14800 block of Willancy Court in the Cypress area.

Harris County Sheriff's Office Maj. Mike Lee said dashcam video shows Dhaliwal and the suspect, still in his car, having a conversation with no sign of confrontation.

A few seconds after Dhaliwal returned to his squad car, the suspect ran up and shot him in the head multiple times, Lee said. Dhaliwal was airlifted to the hospital, where he died.

In 2009, Dhaliwal became the police force's first Sikh who pushed for a historic expansion of religious rights in the department.

Who was Sandeep Dhaliwal?

Dhaliwal is a father of three young children.

He began his career in law enforcement out of a desire to serve after then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia reached out to strengthen the department's relationship with the Sikh community after deputies botched a domestic violence call at a Sikh family's home.

Then-spokesman Alan Bernstein, who now works for Mayor Sylvester Turner, said Garcia met with Sikh leaders and encouraged Sikhs to apply to the department.

Sandeep Dhaliwal 441
Sandeep Dhaliwal was a 10-year veteran on the force, and the agency's first Sikh deputy. Image Credit: Twitter

Sikhism is centered around peace, equality and "love-inspired service" — ideals that Dhaliwal believed were central to police work. His father was a police officer in India before the family moved to America.

He decided to leave what others described as a "lucrative" trucking job to become a civilian detention officer. He later earned his peace officer's license and became the first Sikh deputy in Harris County.

Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42.
Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, an Indian-American Sikh police officer, the first turbaned Sikh cop to serve Texas, died on Friday after he was shot multiple times while conducting a traffic stop. Image Credit: Harris Country Sheriff's Office

"As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement," Dhaliwal told NBC News in 2015. "Serving in the police force is natural to us, as Sikhs value service."

Observant Sikh

Yet as an observant Sikh, Dhaliwal believed he must grow out his beard and wear a turban, and so successfully pushed Garcia to implement a religious accommodation policy that allowed him to do so, according to the Chronicle.

Advocates said Dhaliwal sent a powerful message to religious minority groups, particularly the roughly 500,000 Sikhs living in America: They can serve their communities without compromising their faith.

Dhaliwal embraced the puzzled looks and questions from the public that his appearance drew.

"Sandeep said, 'I'm going to be a conversation piece,' " Bernstein recalled. "It will be a way of opening up a conversation so I can explain to people what Sikhs are all about."

"Deputy Dhaliwal served the Copper Brook community and he was loved and respected by all. This Tuesday will be their National Night Out event and they plan to pay tribute to him also," Gonzales stated in a tweet.

An imprmptu, community-led candlelight vigil was held on Friday night in honor of Dhaliwal.

Dhaliwal's dashboard camera captured video showing Dhaliwal speaking with the driver in what appeared to be a conversational tone with "no combat, no arguing," Sheriff's Major Mike Lee said.

The driver's door was opened at one point, and Dhaliwal shut it as the driver remained in the vehicle.

When Dhaliwal turned to walk back to his patrol car, the driver steps from the car "almost immediately running with a gun already out," Lee said. The driver shot the deputy from behind, hitting him in the back of the head. The driver got back in his car and drove away.

A deputy a short time later found and arrested a nervous man matching the description of the driver at a nearby shopping center, Lee said. A woman believed to have been a passenger in the car also was taken into custody.

The prime suspect in Dhandiwal's murder, Robert Solis, 47, has been charged with the capital murder.