Defense attorney calls HPD's investigation into Sgt. Sean Rios' death 'tilted and incomplete'

Mycah Hatfield Image
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Defense attorney focuses on HPD's investigation into Sgt. Rios' death
The attorney for the man found not guilty in the murder of HPD Sgt. Sean Rios is calling for change at the state level.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A day after his client was found not guilty of murdering an off-duty Houston police sergeant, a seasoned defense attorney is calling for change at the state level over officer-involved shootings.

Paul Looney represented Robert Soliz Jr., who is accused of shooting and killing 24-year HPD veteran Sgt. Sean Rios on the feeder road of the North Freeway in November 2020.

Soliz took the stand and claimed he acted out of self-defense after a road rage encounter with Rios.

"I don't think (Soliz's family) feels like they got lucky," Looney said the day after the not guilty verdict. "I don't think they feel like that this is a beautiful thing. I suspect they are just relieved that it is over."

Throughout the course of the trial, questions remained as to what happened between the two men on the interstate. Who was the first aggressor? Did Rios identify himself as a peace officer despite not being in his uniform or his patrol car? And did Soliz act in self-defense?

After the trial, defense attorney Wade Smith spoke with some of the jurors about what tipped the scale toward a not guilty verdict.

"What it came down to, for them, was there was no evidence that (Soliz) was the first aggressor or that he, in any way, provoked this," Smith said.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Looney laid out a list of examples that he said pointed to a clear conflict of interest by HPD in the course of their investigation.

"I don't think HPD ever does this bad on an investigation when they don't have a conflict," Looney said. "They are very professional people, but conflicts remove our judgment."

He said an inexperienced investigator who was 'lost' was assigned to the case.

"His entire life should have been scrutinized like my client was," Looney said. "It wasn't at all."

Looney explained that data was never collected from Rios' phone and critical interviews with people in Rios' life were not conducted. He said an inexperienced investigator was assigned to the case, and believes it was intentional.

"The officer who was in charge of the investigation, she just collected reports and stapled them together," Looney said. "She never talked to the witnesses. Never. I have never encountered an investigation where the lead investigator was just a collection deposit for other people's reports."

The day after Rios' death, Looney made contact with law enforcement about turning his client in. He said he told them that they would be leaving his office on the Katy Freeway, when and was told what door to bring Soliz to the district attorney's office.

He said that once they entered the interstate, he was tailed by two cars that he later realized were unmarked police units. Looney recalled about 20 units shutting down the Katy Freeway, and at least a dozen assault weapons pointed at him. He said Soliz had even more guns pointed his way before officers put Rios' handcuffs on him and took him into custody.

"It was unnecessary," Looney said. "It exposed everyone on the Katy Freeway to danger. It was totally unnecessary, but it was an indicator of a conflict of interest."

Looney believes there needs to be state legislation to mandate that an outside agency investigates officer-involved shootings so conflicts of interest cannot rear their head.

"Every agency should adopt it as best practice," Looney said. "Every agency should, but we shouldn't leave it up to the agencies to do that. We need statewide legislation that requires it. This is unbelievably wrong."

Doug Griffith, the president of the Houston Police Officer's Union, said an agency investigating their own officer-involved shootings is a standard practice nationwide.

"If he wanted to send in the Texas Rangers to investigate, bring them on," Griffith said. "It still would have had the same outcome. His client still would have gotten charged."

HPD did not want to comment specifically on the concerns made by Looney.

Despite his acquittal, Soliz remains behind bars on a $50,000 bond for having marijuana inside the jail. He received that charge during the trial.

For more on this story, follow Mycah Hatfield on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.