Immediately as we arrived to celebrate my husband Robert’s amazing achievement, being promoted to the rank of Major with the Dallas Police Department, the text messages and news alerts started coming in. Sergeant Merritt called me and said, “You’re up, one or two officers down, it’s unclear at this point exactly what happened.” “I’ll meet you at Home Depot.” Ugggghhhhhhhhh!
As I drove to Home Depot, tears filled my eyes. It sounded bad. I listened to the radio traffic as countless heroes converged on the scene, calmly but swiftly searching a creek for the suspect. SWAT thought they had him. They wanted to throw a flash bang. Turns out, it wasn’t the right guy, stand down.
I was assigned as the lead detective on this case and when I arrived at the scene, I was informed that two officers Rogelio Santander and Crystal Almeida had been shot and were “low sick” (unlikely to make it). A loss prevention officer, Scott Painter, was also shot and in critical condition.
Really?!? No! We can’t do this again. Not this soon after the ambush attack on July 7, 2016 where five (5) officers were killed. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t do this again. Get it together. Everyone needs you to get it together and do your thing. Begin gathering facts.”
Sherry Leonard came up to me, her hand was shaking as she showed us the photo of the suspect vehicle. She’d been searching the Home Depot surveillance video for a clue and she found a big one. The info was immediately put out citywide and the hunt for the suspect was on.
After several hours of Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and Homicide detectives interviewing witnesses, canvassing for video, checking statuses at the hospital and getting officer’s statements; we needed to sit down together and go over what we had so far to decide next steps. It’s a team effort, always.
As we were briefing in the conference room, Sergeant Merritt whispered to me that officers were in chase with the suspect.
We all stood around the radio and listened to the chase. Our helicopter, “Air One” was calling the chase and the suspect was firing shots at the pursuing officers. He got to a dead end, tried to back out and struck a car. We all suspected the officers in the chase would be forced to shoot this maniac. And that meant SIU would be working another OIS (officer involved shooting). Thankfully, God never gives us more than we can handle. The suspect threw his gun out the window at some point. He was surrounded, no way out. After all that, shooting three people, a massive car chase, shooting at pursuing officers, he exited the stolen vehicle he was driving, laid down and gave up. Wow.
The restraint the officers showed at the end of the chase is by far the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. I can promise you, every single one of them wanted to put a bullet in his head, like he had done to Rogelio, Crystal and Scott. But they didn’t. They upheld their oath to serve and protect even the worst criminals. They knew they were not to be judge, jury or executioners. They didn’t give him a whooping or mistreat him, they were 100% professional. The amount of adrenaline going through them had to be hard to control. But they did it. The end game was of upmost importance and the officers knew it. These guys and gals did an outstanding job taking him into custody.
He will now be coming to police headquarters for interrogation. In preparation, I go over the body camera footage from the shooting at Home Depot with my team. Again, just like 7/7/16, watching my family in blue get murdered over and over, making sure I know every detail. It’s grueling to say the least. Those images will NEVER leave me.
I am now tasked with interrogating a cop killer. Santander had not been pronounced dead yet, but we were aware his injuries were not survivable. Detective Ibarra looked at me and said, “Do you want me to talk to the suspect and you take the female?” I said “No way! I want him. He’s mine!”
This is quite possibly the interrogation of my career. The gravity of the situation was not lost on me. I knew the importance of this part of the investigation. We briefly discussed some strategy, but I knew what I needed to do. I’d done this a thousand times before. Just never with a Capital Murder Suspect. Never with a cop killer.
The patrol officers guarding him assured me they’d be just outside the door if he jumped bad. I took a deep breath and opened the door. I was now face to face with a cop killer. I moved the table out of the way and sat as close to him as I could. My knees were between his legs. He said he was thirsty, so I gave him a bottle of water and he drank the entire bottle of water in what seemed like one gulp. I got the confession. Details, many of them. Many very important details. I wish I could share them here, but they must be saved for trial.
Surprisingly, it was like any other interview. It had to be. I had to conduct the interview like I had every other one before. I had a routine that I’d perfected over my 13 years as a Detective. I had to follow the routine so I got everything I needed, to ensure we get a conviction. I couldn’t be nervous or let the gravity of the situation get to me. Same as any other interrogation.
After it was over, everyone praised me. Everyone. Detective Ibarra said it was a text book interrogation, that’s huge coming from him. The DA’s office agreed. I remember feeling good about it, but needed confirmation from them. They assured me I covered everything. God guided me, was right there with me, I give Him the glory because to this day, I’m not sure how I did it.
Temporary Relief, Family Sacrifice
It’s now about midnight and my daughter Kate calls me via FaceTime. Crying, she asks when I’m coming home. I told her I was still at the office with all my buddies and we were working on the officer’s case. I turned the camera around and all the detectives and lawyers standing there with me, put a smile on their faces and waved to her. She’s only 10. She just wants her Mom home safe. She worries about me more than I’ll ever know and it’s become worse since 7/7 happened. I told her to try to go to sleep and I would be home as soon as I could. My dad, who was staying with her since Rob and I were both working, got on the phone and told me she was having a hard time. No doubt.
Back to the grind, I typed offense reports and obtained arrest warrants to put the suspect in jail. Two attempted capital murder warrants and one aggravated assault warrant should be enough to keep him in jail for the night. It was 2 a.m. at this point and we were all exhausted. Emotions were running high. I finally got home about 4 a.m., about 12 hours after the original call. Kate was still up waiting for me. She couldn’t sleep until I was home safe. I may never realize the effects my career choice has on her.
The Final Stretch
I felt like I didn’t sleep. Maybe an hour or two. I was up at 6:30 a.m. and in the shower. I let Kate sleep in because she was up so late, worrying about me. Rob got a message that Officer Santander had passed. He was officially pronounced dead at 8:11 a.m. We knew this was coming. We knew he wouldn’t survive. Sadly, it was time to obtain the Capital Murder warrant.
Immediately upon getting to the office, I start typing the warrant carefully as to not make any mistakes. I know I am being crazy controlling, but this case has to be perfect. Every word needs to be spelled correctly, every detail and crime scene process needed to be documented perfectly. I know I drove the Physical Evidence Section (PES) guys crazy. They got it though and were true professionals. I owed it to Rogelio, Crystal, Scott, their families, and all of Dallas PD to make damn sure this scumbag gets convicted. The pressure I put on myself to not let anyone down was immense. Three detectives and Sergeant Merritt read over my Capital Murder warrant for accuracy. All looked good, time to head to courthouse.
It was surreal, Judge Kennedy, on the bench wearing her black robe, asked me to raise my right hand and swear or affirm that the affidavit was true and correct. I did. Unfortunately, the facts were true and correct. Then she asked how we were doing today. She has a soft way and tone about her. You can tell she cares. I replied “hanging in there.” She nodded and signed the warrant. $1 million dollar bond.
I executed the warrant, adding the Capital Murder charge to the list of charges as the scumbag sat in jail. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) had just publically posted Officer Santander’s death. It was official.
I felt a strong need to go to hospital. Something we didn’t get to do on 7/7/16.
Rogelio, Crystal and Scott’s hospital rooms were all right next to each other. I loved that they were together. Their rooms were completely surrounded by cops. There were probably 25-30 officers in, around, and outside of Rogelio’s room. Many to say their “goodbyes” to him. Crystal’s family was so sweet. My co-worker Eddie gave them our business cards. Scott’s wife, Scarlett, was amazing. She was so thankful and strong.
When I left the hospital, I thought how tragic it will be when Crystal is finally strong enough to be told her partner had been murdered. That she missed his funeral. That she would never see him or have him by her side defending Dallas, ever again. I knew one thing, I sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to tell her.
I already have thought about how this Capital Murder trial will go. How he will get convicted and how I will travel to Huntsville to watch him pay for his sins.
RIP Rogelio Santander #10934, we have the watch from here.
Angela Arredondo #7651
Dallas Police SIU/Homicide