Bystander helps Texas cop take down suspect

Man called for assistance on Katy police officer Robert Hughes' radio

By Karen Hastings
The Houston Chronicle

When Katy resident Talal Choukair came upon a policeman wrestling with a suspect in the middle of Clay Road on Feb. 19 — and then watched the car ahead pull around and keep going — he knew he had to step in.

Authorities later would determine the suspect had two loaded pistols on the floorboard of his Corvette. But Choukair didn't know that when he left his toddler son in his car seat, ran up to the officer in distress, and asked how he could help.

"There was something in me telling me not to sit still. I had to do something," said the married father of three. "I looked at his face and knew that he needed help. I said to myself) this is a time for you to work and get things done."

Katy officials credit Choukair with averting what could have been a deadly encounter, calling for assistance on Katy police officer Robert Hughes' radio as the veteran officer dealt with a routine traffic stop gone seriously wrong.

A grateful Katy Police Chief Bill Hastings later put it this way: "Mr. Choukair was the last one to arrive and the first one to do anything."

Lance Dodson, 41, who lives in the Katy area, later was charged with resisting arrest and is now out on bond in connection with the incident. Hastings says the Class A misdemeanor charge does not adequately reflect the potential danger to officer, suspect and public, had the situation deteriorated further.

"It couldn't have continued a whole lot longer without a huge escalation," said Hastings. "One of them was fixing to get hurt really bad."

At the March 12 meeting of the Katy City Council, Hastings presented a plaque to Choukair, thanking him for his bravery. Choukair also received a standing ovation and a basket of Katy souvenirs, including a coffee mug, flashlight and blanket emblazoned with the city seal.

Choukair, salesman for a family oilfield supply company, replied that police officers are the "true heroes." He thanked officers for "putting their life on the line every day" to protect the Katy community.

According to Hastings, Hughes had clocked a Corvette speeding in the 3100 block of Katy Hockley Road on the evening of Feb. 19, before pulling the vehicle over around the corner on Clay Road. Hughes asked the driver to step out of the car, then found a dagger-like instrument during a pat-down search.

That's when the driver lunged for his Corvette and a struggle began, said the chief, who has seen videotape of the incident. Police would later find the loaded pistols under a white cloth on the passenger-side floorboard, as well as a steak knife in the suspect's other pocket.

Choukair said there were already several cars stopped in either direction on Clay Road when he came upon the scene, only a few blocks from his home. One of those cars pulled around the officer and suspect grappling on the roadway.

"If I could enhance the video and get those license plate numbers, I would call every single one of them and say 'What were you thinking?'" Hastings said. "We got no 9-1-1 calls on it. None."

Choukair said he acted on instinct, not considering possible consequences. He said the hardest part was figuring out how to use Hughes' high-tech police computer and radio equipment to call for help.

As sirens responded almost immediately in the distance, Choukair said Hughes advised him to stand nearby with a flashlight, so the arriving officers could see them in the road. He also advised Choukair to drop the flashlight and raise his hands when police assistance arrived, so officers would recognize his helpful intent.

A native of Lebanon who is now a U.S. citizen, Choukair said he is glad to provide a positive image for Muslim Americans. "I thank God this is a situation where I was able to figure (the radio) out and get the help to him," he says.

Hastings said Hughes ended up with minor injuries, including a bite by the suspect's dog. All participants — including the man in the Corvette — can thank Choukair they left the scene without serious injuries, he said.

"To come forward when everybody else just sat and watched. To me, Mr. Choukair did a wonderful thing," the chief said. "In today's society, nobody wants to get involved in anybody's business unless they can do it behind their back."

Mayor Don Elder also praised Choukair for his "unselfish act of valor," adding, "He didn't have to put his life in danger, but he did. We applaud him for his courage to step up to the plate."

Copyright 2012 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company

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