Prior police call to site of Houston officer's slaying raises questions

The suspected gunman was involved in a domestic disturbance days earlier but was not charged, officials said


By Samantha Ketterer and St. John Barned-Smith
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — District Attorney candidate Mary Nan Huffman blamed incumbent Kim Ogg for a Houston police sergeant's death on Tuesday, claiming that her office's decision not to take charges against the suspect in an earlier domestic disturbance "directly" led to the fatal shooting.

Huffman, a lawyer for the Houston Police Officers' Union, said Ogg "put the gun in (suspect Elmer Manzano's) hands."

Sgt. Harold Preston.
Sgt. Harold Preston. (Photo/Houston Police Department)

"His death was 100% preventable," she wrote in a news release. "Had charges been accepted, Mr. Manzano might be back on the street, but his gun and ammunition would have been seized and held as evidence. No gun would have meant no dead officer."

Harris County District Attorney's Office spokesman Dane Schiller stood by the agency's actions, adding that no charges were brought in agreement with police opinion.

"The only person responsible for this horrible crime is the killer himself and any attempt to blame prosecutors is sadly political and not factual; the record speaks for itself; the officers in these cases didn't believe that a crime had occurred and that left no evidence on which to base any charges," Schiller said.

Police named Manzano, 51, as the suspected gunman in Sgt. Harold Preston's death and Officer Courtney Waller's shooting injury. Manzano was also shot while exchanging gunfire with police, authorities say.

Huffman's statement appears to regard a domestic disturbance on Oct. 18, an incident that also involved Waller.

Police responded to a call at the home that morning, where Manzano's estranged wife told police Manzano had threatened her and that she was "in fear for her life."

Manzano had arrived home around 3 a.m., before waking up at 7 a.m. wanting to take one of their younger sons to McDonalds to eat breakfast, according to his ex-wife, who lived at the apartment with him. She refused, and Manzano brandished his weapon at her and their children before threatening her with deportation, she said.

A criminal background check came back "clear," and Waller spoke to a prosecutor who didn't accept charges. In his report, Waller wrote, "No crime occurred."

In that offense report, Waller said the estranged wife also told authorities she went to the police station on another domestic disturbance the day before, on Oct. 17.

Police were also called to the home on Monday, but details about that encounter are unclear. On Tuesday morning, police again spoke to the DA's office about an incident that occurred on the 19th or in the overnight hours.

In a separate statement Tuesday, Ogg's office elaborated on the decision not to charge Manzano.

The division chief reviewed the case involving the Oct. 18 incident and told the officers, "If you believe her, that's terroristic threat," Schiller said.

The division chief, Jim Leitner, reported the officer said he did not believe an offense had been committed or that a charge was necessary, according to the DA's office.

"It's pretty tough to go against an officer who said no crime occurred," Schiller said.

(c)2020 the Houston Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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