Man's death leads to officer's indictment

October 27, 2009 11:26:17 AM PDT
A Houston police officer will go to trial in connection with the death of a man killed in the summer outside a bar. Nearly four months after a deadly confrontation with an off-duty HPD officer outside a Stafford bar, the medical examiner ruled Sylvanus Okhueleigbe's death a homicide, citing asphyxiation with neck compression and fracture of thyroid cartilage as the cause.

While there are differing accounts as to what happened, the case is going to trial after a grand jury indicted Houston Police Officer Tommy Harris on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.

"Understandably, he's upset by the news. We had hoped this grand jury would have seen the case the way we did. We still feel he did nothing wrong," said Aaron Suder, Officer Harris' attorney.

Suder claims Harris, who remains on paid administrative leave from the force, was simply protecting himself. Back in July, Okhueleigbe was accused of starting a fight with Thomas in the parking lot outside Studio 59. Harris allegedly used a headlock and other standard police tactics to restrain and subdue him. Okhueleigbe died at the hospital a short time later.

"We're standing by our officer. We don't feel that his actions were inappropriate that night. He was defending himself," said Gary Blankinship of the Houston Police Officers Union.

While no one from Okhueleigbe's family wanted to talk about the indictment, Harris' attorney says the officer is looking forward to having his day in court.

A decision has not been made in regards to Harris' employment with HPD and a date has not been set for the trial.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healy said, "Based on the facts, we are pressing forward with aggressive prosecution in this case."

If convicted, Officer Harris could face anywhere from six months to two years in jail.

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