Criminal JusticeImmigration & BorderLocal NewsSuspect in Shooting of Houston Police Officer Not a Legal U.S. Resident

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs, an El Salvadorian national charged in the death of a Houston Police Sergeant is unlawfully present in the country.
October 21, 2020
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A suspect accused of shooting two Houston police officers Tuesday, killing one, is not a legal resident of the United States.

Elmer Rolando Manzano has a criminal history dating back to 1994 that includes arrests for felony assault, jail time, and protective orders through 2004. Since Sunday, Manzano’s estranged wife had twice called police alleging domestic violence, but in neither case was the suspect charged or taken into custody.

On Tuesday morning, Sergeant Harold Preston and two other Houston police officers responded to a domestic disturbance call in the 2600 block of Holly Hall. After speaking with Manzano’s estranged wife, they and Manzano’s 14-year-old son approached the apartment. Manzano shot at the group, hitting his son, officer Courtney Waller, and Sgt. Preston.

Preston, aged 65, later died at Houston’s Memorial Herman Hospital. Waller and Manzano’s son are hospitalized but expected to survive.

Manzano was also struck in the abdomen by return fire and is hospitalized at Ben Taub in Houston.

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According to U.S. Immigration and Customs, Manzano is not a legal resident.

“Elmer Rolando Manzano-Martinez, 51, is a citizen of El Salvador and convicted criminal alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S. On Oct. 20, officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Houston, Texas, placed an immigration detainer with the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) on Manzano-Martinez after he was arrested for murder,” ICE wrote in a statement to The Texan.

In Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19), ICE arrested and removed more than 1,900 illegal aliens who were either convicted of or charged with homicide.

A spokesman for ICE also noted that 86 percent of ERO’s administrative arrests in FY19 had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges “demonstrating ICE’s continued efforts to prioritize public safety in the interior despite resource constraints.”

The ICE spokesman explained that his agency lodges detainers on individuals who have been arrested on criminal charges and who ICE has probable cause to believe are removable aliens. The detainer asks the other law enforcement agency to notify the agency in advance of release and to maintain custody of the alien for a brief period of time so that ICE can take custody of that person in a safe and secure setting upon release from that agency’s custody.

Despite Manzano’s criminal history and jail time, he does not seem to have been identified as a candidate for deportation. It is unclear as to whether ICE was notified after Manzano’s previous arrests and incarceration.

Most of Manzano’s criminal history is documented in Dallas County, which does not participate in the 287(g) Program through which local law enforcement works with ICE to identify criminal suspects who may be in the country illegally. Harris County had participated in the program until 2017 when then newly-elected Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) announced that his department would opt out. 

Controversy regarding the previous calls to law enforcement for Manzano also riled critics of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, including Republican Mary Nan Huffman who is challenging incumbent DA Kim Ogg in the 2020 election.

Huffman sent out a press release late Tuesday accusing the DA of declining charges related to a call on October 18, 2020 and blaming Ogg for leaving a gun in the hands of the suspect.

On an incident report from that day, the responding officer wrote, “I contacted Harris County District Attorney Office and spoke with A.D.A. White who decline [sic] charges at this time.”  At the end of the report, the officer wrote, “no crime occurred, no threats, no assault, only verbal.”

The officer stated that on pat-down, he found six bullets in Manzano’s pocket, but no weapon on his person, and that a criminal history check on “all parties on the scene” came back clear.

A second call to Houston Police alleged a “terroristic threat,” but the incident report for October 19 states that officers did not believe the witnesses and so the prosecutor did not accept charges.

One report also includes a statement from the wife saying that “she is in fear of her life” because she did not know “what her ex-husband will do to her,” and notes that she had also contacted a police substation about Manzano on October 17.

In response to Huffman’s accusations, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office sent local station KPRC the following statement:

“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 officers in these cases didn’t believe that a crime had occurred and that left no evidence on which to base any charges.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday announced that violent crime in the city is up by 11 percent.

Last Friday, a Fire Department arson investigator was also shot and killed in Houston. Lemuel Bruce, age 44 was conducting surveillance related to a spate of car fires in the Houston Heights area when he was allegedly shot by 30-year-old Joshua Delacerda. Delacerda, a recent graduate of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, then shot himself and died at the scene. 

Turner further said that Houston will be expending $4.1 million in CARES Act funding to increase overtime for an additional 110 Houston Police Department officers to patrol six criminal “hot spots” in the city. 

A press release from the city says the patrols will address the spike in homicides, shootings, and other crimes.  Turner attributes the rising crime rate to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a newly released Texas Department of Public Safety report indicates Houston and Harris County criminal activity began climbing in 2019. 

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

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.