HPD officer suspended following man's death

July 6, 2009 3:40:16 PM PDT
A Houston police officer is under investigation for a man's death on the Fourth of July. That man died outside a club in Stafford over the weekend. On Monday, both Stafford and Houston police are answering questions about how it happened. There are varying accounts as to what happened outside that Stafford bar. The fight was between veteran HPD officer Tommy Harris, who was off duty at the time, and Syulvanus Okhueleigbe, 30, an immigrant from Nigeria, who had been in the country for only four months.

The president of the Houston Police Officers' Union says it's his understanding that Okhueleigbe confronted Officer Harris after the HPD officer escorted a female bartender out to her car and that female bartender was threatened by Okhueleigbe earlier when he was asked to leave.

Stafford police deny that any threats were ever made and that Okhueleigbe was never asked to leave. But right now, investigators are keeping a tight lid on what sparked the confrontation.

"There are things we have to investigate. There are leads that we're following and there are interviews that we're doing," said Detective Raphael Virata with the Stafford Police Department. "This is a 48-hour old case."

Stafford police tell us that when officers arrived at the scene, Okhueleigbe was still alive. Though he was not breathing, they say he had a faint pulse.

He was taken to Southwest Memorial Hospital, where he later died. Police say that Okhueleigbe had been served alcohol at the bar earlier in the evening, but they didn't say how much he had to drink.

A source tells us that Officer Harris was not drinking, though investigators never drew his blood.

Officer Harris has been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation and a decision by the Ft. Bend County District Attorney's Office.

The Houston Police Department released the following statement on Monday:

"The HPD Internal Affairs Division is conducting a parallel investigation into an incident involving off-duty Officer T.L. Harris in Stafford, Texas. The officer has been relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of the internal investigation and a decision by the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office. Officer Harris is a 14-year veteran of the department and is assigned to the Westside Patrol Division."

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