Forty-seven-year-old Sergeant Sean Rios, a 25-year veteran of the Houston Police Department (HPD) was shot and killed on Monday under circumstances still under investigation. Initial reports indicate Rios was technically off duty but en route to his shift at Bush Intercontinental Airport at the time of the shooting. Witnesses say that two Hispanic males had a confrontation with the sergeant in which at least one of the men exchanged gunfire with Rios.
HPD has identified and arrested the primary suspect, Robert Soliz, a 24-year old who was out on a $100 bond for carrying a handgun in a motor vehicle in February of 2020.
Prior to his 2020 charges, Soliz had a criminal history dating back to 2014 that included convictions for five misdemeanors and two felonies. His record includes several bond forfeitures, and he served a six-month sentence in 2018.
Records also indicate that in 2016 prosecutors had reduced felony charges of evading arrest in a motor vehicle to a Class A misdemeanor for Soliz. Sentenced to six months in jail, he failed to surrender and was a fugitive for several months before being re-arrested, but new charges were not filed.
In addition, during his jail sentence, Soliz was out on bond for making a terroristic threat.
During a Tuesday press conference, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that Soliz also had known gang affiliations. In response to a reporter’s question as to what he thought about Soliz’s most recent bond, Acevedo replied, “You know what I think about that:” a reference to the police chief’s previous public comments on the bond policy.
Although Acevedo told reporters he preferred to focus on solving the case and taking a second person of interest into custody, he briefly referred to the bond issue.
“We’ve got to take people that are bad people carrying guns, we’ve got to take them seriously. They have no fear, carrying guns. In one door and out the other, and that’s a problem.”
According to Houston Crime Stoppers’ victim’s advocate Andy Kahan, there have now been more than 60 people who have allegedly been murdered by individuals out on either multiple felony bonds, bond forfeiture, personal recognizance bonds, and/or failure to revoke bond.
Kahan recently addressed the Harris County Commissioners Court on the issue when Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct.4) proposed a study on the impact of shifting bond policies on victims, but Democrats on the court rejected working with Houston Crime Stoppers while conditionally agreeing to release some information.
Last week Houston Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious sent a letter to commissioners regarding the court’s actions, and her organization has released some data breaking down victim status by each commissioner’s precinct.
On the same day Houston police arrested Soliz, county commissioners approved on party lines a renewed contract with controversial PFM Group Consulting for $2,877,100 “for review of the Harris County criminal justice system for the County Judge for the period of November 12, 2020-November 11, 2021.”
PFM Group Consulting contracts with local government entities to craft financial plans, and according to their literature, advocates for reducing local police forces and jail populations, and “ending the war on crime.”
Houston and Harris County elected officials have grappled with criminal justice reform issues over the past year, and in light of COVID-19 concerns, many sought to release vast numbers of inmates in the county’s jail system this year.
In relation to the Rios murder, Acevedo also shared surveillance video and images of what may have been the second man at the scene, who he said is a person of interest but may also be a suspect. HPD posted that information on social media.
An attorney representing Soliz, Paul Looney, held a press conference Wednesday in which he claimed police were premature in arresting his client. Looney also said that HPD should not be investigating the murder since they are too close to the victim, and he advocated for the Texas Rangers to take over.
At the HPD press conference, Acevedo noted that multiple law enforcement agencies had been involved in the investigation thus far, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI Houston division, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Acevedo also responded to Looney’s allegations, noting that the district attorney was also conducting an investigation.
Rios is the second Houston-area officer killed in the last month and the fourth over the past 12 months. In October, Sgt. Harold Preston was allegedly shot and killed by a Honduran national who was unlawfully present in the country.
Soliz is in custody as of Thursday morning, but 179th District Court Judge Randy Roll has set bond at $500,000. Since Rios was not on duty at the time of the shooting, Soliz has been charged with murder, but not capital murder.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.