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Suspect in Houston police sergeant's shooting death claims cops fired first

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 10/26/2020 By Nicole Hensley, Staff writer
a man looking at the camera © Houston Police Department

From his hospital bed, Elmer Manzano — accused in the death of Houston police Sgt. Harold Preston — told investigators that he believed the officers fired the first gunshots, according to court records.

Manzano, charged with capital murder of a police officer, did not appear in court Sunday as prosecutors outlined the hour leading up to the Oct. 20 shooting that left three people wounded, including himself with a bullet to the abdomen.

The magistrate, Eva Flores, on Sunday night said Manzano was absent because he needed to continue his recovery. He was brought to the public defender’s office at some point, where he waived his right to be present at a probable cause hearing.

“He needed to be in a place where he can continue to get care,” Flores said.

The 51-year-old suspect is accused of killing Preston as his wife and son tried picking up their belongings from their 2626 Holly Hall Street apartment. During the shooting, investigators said they believe Manzano also wounded his 14-year-old son and Officer Courtney Waller, who had encountered the suspect during prior calls to service at the apartment complex.

Waller and a second officer were dispatched to the apartment Tuesday morning at the wife’s request. The two identified themselves to Manzano prior to the shooting and then called for a sergeant.

Preston soon arrived and the officers stayed outside as the boy and his mother were allowed to go inside to collect their belongings, prosecutors said, describing an investigator’s sworn statement. The son then backed out quickly when he realized his father was armed with a gun.

Manzano is then alleged to have fired multiple rounds.

“Several shots were fired at each officer,” records stated.

Manzano said that one of the officers fired first and he defended himself by firing at least five shots.

“He knew the police officers were out there,” prosecutors said, describing Manzano’s account in the charging papers. “When he answered the door, he claimed the police officers shot at him so he fired back at them about five times.”

The teen and Waller were both shot in the arm, while Preston was shot in the back of the head and back. Manzano was wounded when one of the officers managed to return fire.

Police Chief Art Acevedo has said the encounter was captured in police body-worn cameras.

Manzano, a Salvadoran national who is believed to have been in the Houston area for about 18 years, was ordered to be held on a $500,000 bond on the attempted capital murder of a police officer charge, while no bond would be allowed on the capital murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges.

His court-appointed lawyer, Mario Madrid, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Manzano is expected Thursday morning to return to court, records show.

nicole.hensley@chron.com

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