A SWAT chief has died and four other officers were injured after an hour-long police standoff with an armed man Thursday in a small town in West Texas, officials said. Authorities say the suspect was captured just before midnight in Levelland, about 30 miles west of Lubbock.
Standoff between the suspect and the police had begun in the home around noon. 13 after someone reported a man possibly armed along the residential street. The confrontation escalated rapidly, gunfire erupted as the suspect barricaded himself inside a house, and a distance emerged.
Three of the wounded officers were taken to a Lubbock hospital. Sgt. Josh Bartlett of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office was taken to Covenant Health Levelland Hospital and died of his wounds, according to a sheriff’s office statement. Bartlett was commander of the sheriff’s tactical unit.
Levelland Police Sgt. Shawn Wilson was in critical but stable condition at University Medical Center in Lubbock after surgery, Garcia said. The other three officers were treated for minor injuries and were discharged from the hospital, he said.
Omar Soto-Chavira, 22, was injured when he was taken into custody around noon. 23.30 in a home in Levelland, police chief Albert Garcia told reporters. The suspect was transported to a hospital in Lubbock for treatment, Garcia said.
Authorities used robots to enter the home and then deployed gas that pulled Soto-Chivara out of the residence, Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe said during the briefing.
Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres had said the suspect had a history of contacting police. He also said Bartlett, head of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT command, was a nine-year veteran of the department who had served overseas in the U.S. Army.
“Josh was a true servant,” Rowe said. “He personified the true law enforcement professional, especially here in Texas law enforcement.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, representing Texas ’19. congressional district, responded to Bartett’s death on Twitter.
It was not immediately clear what caused the man to open fire or lock himself in the house. However, the standoff limited a number of events that began at. 11:17 a.m. Thursday when a state trooper completed a traffic stop, Garcia said.
“During this traffic jam, he had a separate person driving recklessly, and as he reported to us, he seemed to be trying to lure him into some kind of confrontation,” Garcia said.
Kl. 13.12 on Thursday, police in Levelland received a report that the complainant’s neighbor “behaved strangely and walked around with what appeared to be a large gun,” Garcia said. Arrived officers determined that the neighbor’s pickup was in accordance with the description that the trooper was delivering the vehicle with the apparently provocative driver at the wheel.
Garcia said investigators believed the man was alone in the house. Concerned about the report that the man was armed, a police dealer tried to start talks with the suspect, who was hostile and did not want a discussion, Garcia said. Moments later, the suspect opened the front door of the house and opened fire on Levelland officers. “We returned fire, but it did not appear that we hit the suspect at that time,” the boss said.
Backup was called from the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Team and the Hockley County Sheriff’s Office. “It was not long after that that we got further shots fired and we had officers who were wounded,” Garcia said.
The hospital where the Lubbock County deputy died, Covenant Health Levelland, is less than a mile from the standoff scene and locked itself “to secure our patients, carers and visitors” and has deployed additional security officers to the Hospital.
Local media reported shots were fired during the standoff, and nearby residents were urged to leave their homes. Some who refused to travel were advised to stay in the back of their houses and stay low, Garcia said.
Police, deputies and other emergency crews from across the region responded to the incident along with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other federal agencies, Garcia said. Rangers would lead the investigation after the completion of the standoff.
Levelland is the seat of Hockley County and a local oil, cotton and cattle center, home to about 13,500 residents.
Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish said the county flags would be flown with half-staff to honor Bartlett, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.