A Harris County jury this week acquitted the man who fatally shot an on-duty Houston police officer during an apparent incident of road rage.
Robert Solis, 26, was found not guilty in the November 9, 2020 shooting death of 47-year-old Houston Police Department Sergeant Shawn Rios as he was on his way to work at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Not in uniform, not in a patrol car.
Solis’ defense attorney, Wade Smith of the Houston-based law firm Looney, Smith & Conrad, called it “a pure self-defense case from the beginning.” Smith said neither he nor his law partners could recall a similar acquittal in the Houston area or elsewhere.
“It’s very rare,” Smith said. We can’t think of another case where someone was acquitted of an officer’s shooting death, whether on or off duty.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, both said in a statement that they were deeply disappointed by the jury’s verdict.
Solis has previously been convicted of multiple misdemeanor crimes and remains in jail on multiple, unrelated charges, including two counts of assault with a deadly weapon stemming from incidents in 2020. In the murder case, Smith said he could not speak to those cases solely on behalf of Solis.
“We viewed the evidence differently from the jury, and while we cannot agree with the jury’s decision, we appreciate their time and service,” David Mitchum, first assistant to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Sean Rios’ widow and four children, who will now grow up without their father. Officer Rios spent his time here on earth serving and protecting the people of Houston, and he gave his life in that noble effort. He will always be remembered for the hero he was.”
Citing Solis’ testimony, Smith said his client and Rios were driving north on Interstate 45 in North Houston on the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2020, when they hit each other and waved. Solis exited the freeway at Gulf Bank Road and Rios pulled into the parking lot of Cactus King Nursery, just east of I-45 and Steubner Airline Drive.
Rios got out of his vehicle, approached Solis’ car with a gun, and according to Smith, Solis got out of the car, grabbed his own gun, and walked to the front of it, placing the vehicle between the two men. Shots were then fired, and Solis ran into a nearby nursery.
Smith said he did not know who fired the first shot. “It’s possible that Robert shot first. In that case, Mr. Rios was pointing his gun at Robert.”
According to a summary of testimony filed in Harris County court, witnesses saw Rios walk to the entrance of the nursery and, after firing shots inside, walk to Solis’ car, where he reached behind the open driver’s side door. Solis then walked out of the nursery and walked toward Rios, a shootout ensued, when Rios was punched in the chest, according to court documents.
Rios then drove onto the I-45 access road and ran to a nearby motel, where he was bleeding and asked staff there to call 911.
The witnesses gave no indication that Rios was a police officer, according to a summary of their recorded statements.
Smith said Rios suspected Solis of criminal activity and was acting as a law enforcement officer, and prosecutors tried to argue that Solis instigated their encounter.
“This was an incident between two citizens,” Smith said. “This was not an incident between one police officer and another. Mr. Rios was in a private vehicle, personal and in plain clothes. He was not on duty and never identified himself as a police officer.
Finner said in a statement on Twitter, “Our focus has been, and will continue to be, on Sergeant Rios’ surviving family members. We will continue to love and support them during this difficult time.”
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