Off-Duty Texas Deputy Killed in Shootout With Suspected Catalytic Converter Thieves

The deputy and his wife were buying supplies to celebrate his sister's birthday party when he was fatally shot, the sheriff says

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Two men are facing capital murder charges and a third is on the lam after a Houston-area sheriff's deputy was fatally shot Thursday night during a confrontation with a group of people who were attempting to steal his catalytic converter, law enforcement officials say.

KPRC-TV in Houston reports Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Almendarez was at a grocery store with his wife when he noticed three people who appeared to be stealing catalytic converters.

According to KPRC, Almendarez told his wife to run before he confronted the group in the store's parking lot. The men pulled their guns on Almendarez and opened fire.

Almendarez, 51, shot back but was struck by a bullet, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he later died.

Two of the suspected thieves drove themselves to the same hospital and were treated for gunshot wounds, KPRC reported. Deputies told the news outlet that a third person remains at large.

The two men in custody were identified as 23-year-old Joshua Stewart and 19-year-old Fredarius Clark. Both Stewart and Clark have been charged with capital murder, according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press. A third man, believed to be a male teenager, fled the scene and was being sought.

No other injuries were reported.

Gonzalez said Almendarez and his wife were at the grocery store getting supplies to celebrate his sister's birthday.

"[He's] really a hero because as all of this unfolded he had the mindset to make sure he was protecting his wife," Gonzalez said. "He told his wife to run, to get away from danger, as he put himself in harm's way to protect the rest of the community as he tried to stop the crime.

Almendarez was a 23-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff's Office and was assigned to the Auto Theft Task Force, Gonzalez said.

“This is tragic. You know, we’re tired of this crime in our community,” Gonzalez said. “We’re tired that people aren’t even safe to go out to the grocery store. This is a cop. This is a cop that’s just out with his family. It could be any one of us -- And it happened to be him. That’s unacceptable and we’ve said it time and time again, and I just don’t know what else to say.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) offered prayers for Almendarez's family in a statement Friday.

"Deputy Darren Almendarez lost his life while answering the call to serve and protect his fellow Texans, and this tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make both on and off duty," Abbott said.

NBC 5 and the Associated Press.
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