Houston, TX – An off-duty Harris County deputy was fatally shot in the parking lot of a grocery store on Thursday night as he was confronting three suspects who were allegedly trying to steal the catalytic converter from his vehicle, according to investigators.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the incident occurred near the intersection of Aldine Westfield Road and FM 1960 at approximately 8:40 p.m. on March 31, KHOU reported.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Deputy Darren Almendarez, 51, was shopping with his wife in preparation for his sister’s birthday party, Sheriff Gonzalez said.
They were walking out of the grocery store when Deputy Almendarez spotted three suspects trying to steal the catalytic converter off his vehicle in the parking lot, according to investigators.
“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 and to try and stop a crime,” Sheriff Gonzalez told reporters.
The sheriff said the deputy confronted the suspects, at which point at least one of them allegedly pulled out a gun, KHOU reported.
Deputy Almendarez struggled with the suspect and attempted to disarm him before he drew his own weapon.
Deputy Almendarez was fatally wounded during the ensuing exchange of fire, KHOU reported.
He shot two of his attackers, but police are still searching for the third.
“Deputy Almendarez was a fighter,” Sheriff Gonzalez said, according to KPRC. “He was a warrior in every sense of the word.”
The deputy was rushed to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds, KHOU reported.
With heavy hearts, we mourn the loss of Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Darren Almendarez, 51. An agency veteran of 23 years, he served in our auto theft unit for the past year. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his wife, children, his extended family, colleagues & friends. pic.twitter.com/PvzsBQfa48
— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) April 1, 2022
The two suspects he shot took themselves to a hospital and were later taken into custody.
Both were listed in stable condition, Sheriff Gonzalez said.
Deputy Almendarez served the HCSO for 23 years and was assigned to the agency’s Auto Theft Division at the time of his murder, KHOU reported.
The sheriff said the veteran deputy spent a portion of his life homeless and working in fast-food service before he decided to devote his life to serving his community.
Deputy Almendarez was “doing what he did best” the night he was murdered, according to Sheriff Gonzalez.
“He was out there fighting crime,” the sheriff said.
Deputy Almendarez leaves behind his wife and children, as well as his mother and his sister, KHOU reported.