Houston officer's killer had past violations
By James Pinkerton and Susan Carroll
HOUSTON — The gunman who shot and killed an undercover police officer during a Tuesday night sting operation was an illegal immigrant who had been picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso and allowed to return home to Mexico 10 years ago.
Municipal records also show that Roberto Pedroza Carrillo, 37, had been stopped and ticketed by the Houston Police Department at least four times since 2002, most recently last November. In 2002, a warrant was issued for Carrillo after he failed to appear in court on a speeding ticket, but the case was resolved when he paid the fine.
But because he never was arrested and fingerprinted in Houston, there was no way for ticketing officers to know he was here illegally.
Carrillo was killed in a gunfight Tuesday night seconds after he paid thousands of dollars to undercover officer Henry Canales, who was posing as a thief selling stolen televisions.
Police say Carrillo paid Canales $6,500 for $30,000 worth of merchandise stacked in a rented truck in a Walgreen’s parking lot in southwest Houston, then pulled a gun and demanded the return of the money as well as the keys to the truck.
Police say Canales, 42 and a 16-year veteran of the job, was shot in the back, but was able to fire a fatal shot into Carrillo’s chest during the botched robbery attempt. A second undercover officer, Ruben Lopez, rushed over to secure the wounded Carrillo, who fired several shots at the officer before Lopez shot him once in the back.
Three of Carrillo’s associates fled the shooting scene on Hillcroft near Bellaire in a van, but quickly were stopped by officers backing up the undercover operation. A 16-year-old girl, who was in the van, is in juvenile custody. All three are illegal immigrants, authorities said.
Municipal court records for a Roberto Carrillo, with the same address and date of birth released by investigators, show several traffic tickets from late 2002 to November of 2008. Several of the charges were dismissed after he provided proof of insurance and registration, and after HPD officers failed to appear in court. Records show Carrillo died owing the city $195 for a speeding ticket.
Under HPD policy, officers are not allowed to inquire about citizenship status during routine traffic stops. Suspects without valid identification can be fingerprinted, even for minor offenses. Carrillo, however, had several forms of ID, including at least two Texas driver’s licenses.
Suspects used aliases
After undercover HPD officer Rick Salter was shot by an illegal immigrant in March, Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt agreed to seek federal funds so city jailers could train to assist immigration agents and access immigration databases.
Authorities said Thursday that Carrillo and the three who accompanied him to the undercover sting had used false names in the past, complicating efforts by police to investigate the case.
Capital murder charges have been filed against Andres Maldonado Nava, 41, of Mexico, and Xiomara Mendez Rosales, 36, of Honduras.
According to Ken Landgrebe, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, Maldonado had used eight false identities between 1985 and 1992, and was arrested in California between 1990 and 1992 for attempted murder, robbery, being under the influence of drugs, grand theft, assault and exhibiting a firearm. Mendez, authorites said, was arrested in Houston on charges of assault of a family member in 2006, but the charges were dismissed.
Capital charges possible
Lt. Scott Dombrowski, of HPD’s auto theft division, said the undercover operation Tuesday “went horribly wrong” after officers lined up a group who wanted to buy a large amount of stolen goods.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said a decision will be made later whether to seek the death penalty against Maldonado-Nava and Mendez. Lykos’ staff has said the suspects were not charged with the murder of a police officer because Canales did not have time to identify himself as an officer.
The death of Canales, the third on-duty shooting of an HPD officer by an illegal immigrant since 2006, prompted critics to again brand Houston a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.
White rejects the label. He said ICE agents have had full access to city jails since 2006, the year HPD officer Rodney Johnson was shot to death by an illegal immigrant he had arrested.
The mayor said federal authorities need more effective programs for removing immigrants convicted of serious crimes, something that would require comprehensive immigration reform.
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle