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Ex-girlfriend said agencies ignored warnings about LEO’s accused killer

“I handed him over on a silver platter. I was walking around trying to get anybody to take the bait. Nobody took the bait”

St. John Barned-Smith
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — Melissa Purtee called every law enforcement agency she could think of with a warning: Her ex-boyfriend, Robert Solis, had a warrant out for his arrest. And he was dangerous.

Purtee called the Houston Police Department. The Sugar Land Police Department. The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office. She rang the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She even tried Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers.

Nobody listened, she said.

Two months later, Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal pulled Solis over for running a stop sign. During the traffic stop, Solis allegedly shot and killed Dhaliwal. He is charged with capital murder.

As authorities attempt to explain the breakdown that led to the death of a deputy who was a beloved pillar of the community, Solis’ former partner said her efforts to get him locked back up went nowhere. She said Dhaliwal’s death exposes continued problems with the way parolees are supervised in Texas.

“I was at my wit’s end,” Purtee said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “Nobody could help me.”

The Houston Police Department says it’s looking into her assertions. Other law enforcement agencies contacted by the Chronicle said they either did not have records of her attempts to contact them or that Solis lived outside their jurisdictions.

Purtee and her eldest son, Robert Purtee, provided new insight about the man now accused of one of the most high-profile murders in Harris County in years.

Solis had a record of violent acts long before he allegedly ambushed the 42-year-old lawman last week. He was incarcerated for more than a decade for shooting a relative’s boyfriend in 2002.

After the shooting, he barricaded himself in his garage with his 4-year-old son in one hand and a gun in the other, according to court documents.

He was convicted of two felonies for those crimes and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he was released on parole in 2014 after 12 years.

Two years later, Solis was convicted of driving while intoxicated. A year later, Solis violated parole terms when he was charged with assault and possession of a prohibited weapon, officials said.

The Galveston County woman provided phone records showing that she had called law enforcement agencies and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice more than a dozen times in July with concerns about her former partner. She said she told them he had a warrant out for his arrest and identified the person he was living with at the time.

The Chronicle obtained audio copies of two of her calls.

“I’m concerned that something’s bad’s going to happen because it does every single time he has (his son in his care),” she says in one call, obtained from the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.

Dhaliwal’s death marks at least the fourth time since 2016 a person paroled after conviction for a violent crime remained free even after being convicted of a new crime — and then committed murder, said Harris County Crime Stoppers Victims Advocate Andy Kahan.

“The issue is what do we do with parolees who become fugitives from justice,” he said.

Officials at the agency, which is not affiliated with Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers, said they were never contacted about the case.

Solis was convicted in 2016 of DWI while on parole for his 2002 aggravated kidnapping conviction — but wasn’t sent back to prison. Instead, he remained free. Then in early 2017 he was charged with assault and possessing a prohibited weapon.

The case follows the same trajectory as the 2017 killing of 79-year-old Janeil Bernard.

Michael Glen Susberry, 57, was arrested in 2017 on a charge of capital murder, accused of robbing and stabbing Bernard in her home. He had previously been convicted of armed robbery and was sentenced to life in prison in June 1985. He was paroled in June 2004. Susberry was arrested in 2015 for threatening a family member with a knife. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of assault but was not sent back to prison for violating his parole.

Past legislative efforts to fix that problem have proven fruitless, said Harris County Crime Stoppers Victims Advocate Andy Kahan, pointing to the last legislative session. One bill, which would have allowed criminal charges to be filed on violent offenders who become fugitives from justice, never received a hearing in the Texas Senate.

“The system failed Deputy Dhaliwal in multiple ways and cost him his life,” Kahan said. “And we need to do better, otherwise his death will be in vain.”

The Chronicle contacted all of the agencies Melissa Purtee says she called.

At the Houston Police Department, Chief Art Acevedo said he was looking into her assertions.

“I have asked the same questions, and will provide the answers when I receive them,” he said in a text message. “I have been sounding the alarm on the need for the state, DAs, and courts to do a better job of holding parolees accountable for violations and the importance of sending them back to prison when they violate the terms and condition of their parole.”

Records show Melissa Purtee made four calls on July 12: one to HPD, one to Sugar Land PD, one to the sheriff’s office, and one to Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers. Her phone records show she made four calls to the sheriff’s office the following Monday, and later that same day, called a TDCJ parole office in southeast Houston seven times.

Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Maj. Chad Norvell said the sheriff’s office was only aware of two calls from Melissa Purtee.

“There wasn’t a lot to go on,” he said in an email. “She wanted him picked up, but didn’t have an address and declined ‘welfare checks’. Law enforcement frequently gets calls from spouses, girlfriends etc. saying their ex has weed, warrants, etc. TDCJ doesn’t notify us of parole violators that may be in our area. The warrant is presumably entered in the system and they wait until someone encounters the individual and runs them. … Clearly, that is why he shot HCSO Deputy (Dhaliwal). He knew the Deputy would see the warrant.”

“There should be something better in place to catch these parole violators,” he said.

That is cold comfort for Melissa Purtee, who can’t help but wonder what might have happened if police had arrested Solis earlier this year. She wouldn’t have had to worry about her son for weeks. Solis would be behind bars. And Dhaliwal would still be alive.

“I handed him over on a silver platter,” she said. “I was walking around trying to get anybody to take the bait. Nobody took the bait.”