02/20/2008

Off-duty Texas officer dies from shooting injury

By Kevin Moran
The Houston Chronicle

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Precinct 6 Deputy Constable Harry Thielepape, who was shot Jan. 26 while working security at an apartment complex, died early this morning. He was 57.

Thielepape, who survived several surgeries to repair gunshot wounds, was with family members at Memorial Hermann Hospital when he died, Precinct 6 spokesman Danny Perez said this morning.

"His wounds were just so severe," Perez said. "He took a turn for the worse."

"He was a special guy," Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino said after learning of his longtime deputy's death. "He always wanted to be in law enforcement and he fulfilled his dream."

Thielepape worked first as a reserve deputy, then became a deputy 10 years ago, Trevino said. Thielepape was a corporal and assigned to a special squad that sought out parole violators in the precinct, Trevino said.

"He had a great sense of humor," Trevino said. "When he first came to work, I had trouble pronouncing his name and I asked him if it would be okay if I just called him 'Tailpipe'. He just laughed and said that would be fine, so I called him Tailpipe."

Funeral arrangements will be announced, Trevino said.

Thielepape was working a part-time security job at the north Harris County apartment complex when he apparently became suspicious about Jesus Gilbert Reyna, 21, who was wanted on a pair of Class C misdemeanor warrants, officials said when the shooting occurred.

Thielepape was assigned to a unit at the Precinct 6 constable's office that is charged with apprehending felony suspects and parole violators. Fellow officers speculated that Thielepape was looking for Reyna at the time.

Thielepape was not in uniform but wore his badge on a chain around his neck and a protective vest, officials said after the incident.

Witnesses reported seeing him pull the unmarked police car he was driving in front of Reyna to block Reyna, detectives said.

Thielepape took Reyna into custody after finding marijuana and a handgun on him, authorities said. He was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of the unmarked police car.

A veteran with more than 10 years on the force, Thielepape likely would have secured the handcuffs behind Reyna's back, officials said.

After the gunfight that left him dead, Reyna was found lying in the parking lot with the handcuffs in front, officials said.

Thielepape may have spotted Reyna struggling with the handcuffs and opened the back door to check that he was still secured.

Reyna was able to grab Thielepape's service pistol and began shooting. The deputy constable moved back under fire, detectives said.

"He took cover by a car and used his backup weapon," an investigator said two days after the incident. "He really did a great job, considering he'd already been hit a couple of times."

Apartment residents reported hearing up to 20 gunshots fired in the exchange, but detectives said there were no witnesses to the confrontation.

Reyna was a U.S. citizen but apparently didn't live at the complex, officials said.

He had a Harris County criminal record, most recently receiving two 30-day jail sentences in January 2007 after pleading guilty to a pair of drug possession charges.

Trevino said the reasons behind the shootings will probably remain a mystery.

Just the day before Thielepape was shot, Trevino said the two discussed why he worked security at apartment complexes that had known criminal problems.

"There are a lot of good people there," Trevino quoted Thielepape as saying. "They need to feel safe."

Copyright 2008 The Houston Chronicle

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