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Houston police chief criticizes lawmakers, NRA over gun legislation

Chief Art Acevedo asked legislators to take action on laws meant to prevent gun violence

Samantha Ketterer
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — When police found Arturo Solis on the grounds of an East End elementary school, he first asked whether the Houston officer he allegedly shot and killed about a block away was OK, a Harris County prosecutor said.

He then told authorities he likely would have opened more gunfire had anyone emerged from their homes as he fled, the prosecutor said.

Those were just two of several new details revealed during Solis’ first appearance Monday in state district court, filling in many gaps of Saturday’s fatal encounter between the 25-year-old and Houston Police Sgt. Chris Brewster, who was responding to a domestic violence call. Solis was arrested after the shooting and is being held without bond on a charge of capital murder.

At a press conference, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo also reiterated his challenge to lawmakers to pass key legislation that would bar abusers from owning a firearm.

“I don’t want to hear about how much they support law enforcement,” Acevedo told reporters Monday morning outside the medical examiner’s office. “I don’t want to hear about how much they care about the sanctity of lives,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo called out by name Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn; the latter of which Acevedo jousted with last week on Twitter after a press conference about the Violence Against Women Act.

He said legislators have failed to reauthorize the act, which provides funding and grants for domestic abuse programs, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association, which “doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse girlfriends.”

“And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend,” Acevedo said. “So you’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts or you’re here for the NRA.”

In court, Solis cried as he stood before Judge Danilo Lacayo, his attorneys said. Behind him, a man consoled a woman who sobbed while sitting on a courtroom bench.

The pair, who only identified themselves as Solis’ siblings, said little as they ducked into an elevator after the court setting.

“He’s a good kid,” the man said.

During the hearing, defense attorneys raised a history of a mental illness documented as far back as his teens. It’s unclear what those illnesses might be, but Solis’ family told the Chronicle that he showed signs of schizophrenia and depression in his teens and had not been taking prescribed medication.

“The obvious question to us becomes how does a mentally ill person with prior domestic violence conviction get a handgun?” appointed defense lawyer Anthony Osso said after the appearance. “That’s really a problem for us and we want to see where there was a breakdown in the system.”

David Mitcham, first assistant to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, said the office would be prosecuting Solis to the full extent of the law.

The shooting is the latest in recent months to result in the death of a Houston-area law enforcement officer. Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was killed in September during a traffic stop.

“The Kim Ogg administration takes a case of this nature extremely seriously,” he said. “We will see that justice is done.”

Lacayo acknowledged that prosecutors could eventually pursue the death penalty for Solis. Ogg has said a committee of senior prosecutors has not yet made that determination.

The judge found probable cause in Solis’ arrest after prosecutor John Brewer read police accounts that offered more insight into the moments of the shooting and Solis’ subsequent arrest.

Brewster was wearing a ballistic vest when he was shot. Acevedo released a statement Monday night saying at least one round penetrated Brewster’s vest during the shooting. He stated an expert will need to analyze the shooter’s ammunition to determine whether it was designed to penetrate that type of equipment. Also, the vest will be further examined to determine whether it performed to the manufacturer’s specifications, Acevedo said.

Brewster, a nine-year veteran of the department, encountered Solis while responding to a domestic violence call at a home in the 7100 block of Avenue I in the Greater East End. He got out of his car near the 7400 block of Avenue L and saw Solis’ girlfriend walking behind him, pointing out the man. She told 911 dispatchers that Solis had assaulted her and was armed with two guns.

Solis later told authorities that Brewster waved both of his arms as if to say hello, Brewer told the judge on Monday. Gunfire almost immediately erupted, hitting Brewster at least once and striking his patrol car and a home behind him.

Backup officers arrived and found Solis on the property of nearby De Zavala Elementary. He first asked whether the officer was OK, and said that had other people come out of their homes as he fled, he likely would have shot them as well, Brewer said.

He admitted to fully unloading his gun, which was recovered near the shooting, the attorney said. A second gun was also recovered close to where Solis was found at the elementary school.

After being arrested, Solis sat for a brief questioning, and at various times said he didn’t remember shooting Brewster, the prosecutor said. But he filled in several details that indicated he knew he killed an officer, Brewster said, without further elaborating.