HPD Sgt. Sean Rios was killed in November 2020, in what police called a "gun battle."
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On Tuesday, the man accused of the shooting death of Houston police Sgt. Sean Rios appeared in court, where he pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys claim he acted in self-defense.
Inside the packed courtroom, during opening statements, Robert Soliz's attorneys claimed Rios "wasn't acting like an officer that day," and that "Rios had every intention of killing Soliz."
Rios was shot and killed in November 2020, in what police called a gun battle.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said Rios was on the North Freeway headed to work when Soliz, who was on the second to the left lane, cut over to take the Gulf Bank exit. They added Rios followed Soliz onto Stuebner Airline and stopped at Catcus King, a plant nursery.
Prosecutors said Rios left the tail of his car hanging out in the road and his driver's door open with his phone lying on the ground next to it.
Soliz ran into Cactus King Nursery, and Rios ran after him and took a fighting stance as Soliz pointed a gun at him. During that time, Soliz's friend, Jason Vasquez, arrived at the scene. Prosecutors said Soliz was "aggressively shooting" at Rios, who then ran to a nearby hotel where he died.
Jurors were shown surveillance video of Rios running into the motel covered in blood and asking for help before he collapsed and died in the lobby. They heard from the owner of the motel, Sid Ghandi, who made one of two 911 calls that day.
Ghandi told prosecutors he was in the back office with his son when he heard a loud sound, and at least 10 seconds later, he heard more sounds simultaneously.
Defense attorneys painted Rios as the aggressor on day one of the trial. They said the sergeant got out of his car "red-faced" with a gun in hand and marched toward Soliz's car. That's when they exchanged gunfire. Soliz ran away from Rios, who followed and waited at a nearby gate with a gun, the defense said.
Witnesses allegedly described Rios charging at Soliz.
When the first officers arrived at the scene on the day of the shooting, it took them about 45 minutes to realize Rios was an officer, according to Officer Michon's testimony. He said he and his partner noticed the pants the deceased man was wearing were similar to theirs but did not realize he was a police officer.
His body camera video showed him eventually peering into the backseat of Rios' car through the window and finding his police uniform shirt with his badge attached hanging over the back of his driver's seat. From there, he notified his sergeant, who called for the special investigative unit to go to the scene rather than homicide detectives.
The defense claims that's when police started making assumptions that Rios was defending himself.
"Whatever you think about Robert (Soliz), the way he looks, the way he stands, the way he talks, Robert (Soliz) had the right to defend himself," defense attorney Paul Looney said.
According to the defense, the gun Rios used that day was not his registered service weapon.
Several other officers who made the scene that day also took the stand.
Looney questioned them on the protocol of acting as a law enforcement officer when they were not on duty.
Michon said they are required to call in to dispatch for help as soon as possible and announce that you are a police officer.
Officers recounted looking for surveillance video to figure out where the suspect went following the shooting. They said they were looking for a Mercedes and a black Chevy or GM truck.
Sgt. James Sanders found a video that showed both cars pulling into GTO Transmission shortly after the shooting. A man got out of each vehicle, according to the witness. He described the man who got out of the Mercedes as looking "flustered." He then reported seeing the suspect and the other man get into the black truck and drive away.
Officers searched the auto shop that day to ensure Soliz was not in the building.
They found his Mercedes outside, with a bullet hole in the windshield, which prosecutors allege Soliz put there himself.
Testimony resumes Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.