HARRIS COUNTY, TX — Sandeep Dhaliwal, the slain Harris County sheriff’s deputy who was the first Sikh member of the force, is being remembered as a selfless, bold and history-making officer. Dhaliwal, 42, earned national headlines in 2015 when the sheriff at the time, Adrian Garcia, announced he would allow Dhaliwal to wear a turban and have a beard while on duty, keeping in line with the Sikh religion.
According to a Washington Post article from the time, the Harris County sheriff’s department became one of the first few police forces in the country to allow for the religious accommodation.
Dhaliwal was slain in an ambush-style attack Friday while conducting what had appeared to be a routine traffic stop. The man accused of gunning down Dhaliwal, Robert Solis, 47, is being held in the Harris County jail on a capital murder charge.
In a statement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the story of Dhaliwal practicing the Sikh imperative of “seva” or service, went worldwide.
One way Dhaliwal gave back to the community was in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. A story from 2017 shared by the organization “We Are Sikhs” describes how Dhaliwal began volunteering for United Sikhs to help his neighbors get back on their feet.
According to the article, Dhaliwal used donations made by the Sikh community from across the country to buy items for homes affected by the deadly flooding. Dhaliwal’s efforts stretched beyond Houston into Florida and Puerto Rico as well, according to the article.
Another vignette shared by the sheriff’s office was a short video of Dhaliwal playing with a young boy. The video was sent to the sheriff’s office by the boy’s mother, who said Dhaliwal left a bright impression on her son, who is deaf.
Dhaliwal was the first deputy at the scene in 2015 when another member of the sheriff’s department, Darren Goforth, was gunned down. According to the sheriff’s office, Dhaliwal and Goforth were close friends. Dhaliwal was killed about a mile away from where Goforth was shot four years ago.
Some friends of Dhaliwal said his life showed how the presence of multiple cultures and faiths can enrich the country.
“It’s such a powerful message to send to the community that a man in a turban and beard is just as much American as you,” Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the New York-based Sikh Coalition, told the Associated Press.
In an interview with NBC News in 2015, Dhaliwal said he joined the sheriff’s department in 2009 after Garcia visited the Sikh temple or Gurudwara where he worshipped.
“As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement,” Dhaliwal said in 2015. “Serving in the police force is natural to us, as Sikhs value service.”
About 7,000 to 10,000 Sikhs live in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, according to the Houston Chronicle. More than a half-dozen Sikh temples can be found in the region.
Dhaliwal leaves behind a wife and three children.
Reporting and writing from The Associated Press was used in this report.