Suspect arrested, charged with capital murder, in ambush murder of Harris Co. sheriff's deputy

Deputy Fernando Esqueda, a five-year veteran of HCSO and a member of the Violent Person Task Force, was shot and killed overnight.

Friday, July 12, 2024 12:59PM
Arrest made amid manhunt after Harris Co. deputy's killing: Sheriff
Ronnie Palmer, a person of interest in the shooting of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Fernando Esqueda, was arrested.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A man wanted hours after a 28-year-old Harris County sheriff's deputy was shot to death has been taken into custody and is now facing a capital murder charge.

Sources told ABC13 that 44-year-old Ronald Ronnie Palmer, Jr. was arrested on Ghita Lane off C.E. King Parkway in northeast Harris County's Bavaria neighborhood Thursday evening.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez later confirmed the arrest.

Law enforcement drone images shared with ABC13 showed the arrest. Gonzalez said he surrendered peacefully. Investigators believe he had been moving around throughout the day. They tracked him to the house on Ghita, not far from his mother's house. Authorities said no one else was inside at the time of his surrender.

Afterward, Palmer spent a few hours at the HCSO Detectives Bureau before his transfer to the Harris County Jail.

By 11:00 p.m., Palmer was charged with capital murder, Gonzalez announced.

Palmer was previously identified as the person of interest in 28-year-old Deputy Fernando Esqueda's murder.

Investigators said Palmer was last seen allegedly assaulting an employee at the Little Caesars on Wallisville Road in northeast Harris County on Wednesday night

Gov. Greg Abbott previously announced a $10,000 reward for an arrest.

According to Gonzalez, Esqueda was a five-year veteran with the department in the Violent Persons Task Force.

"He was dedicated to protecting and serving the residents of Harris County," Gonzalez wrote in a post on social media. "We pray with Deputy Esqueda's family, friends, and colleagues during this incredibly difficult time. Deputy Esqueda's commitment to duty and his sacrifice will always be remembered."

Gonzalez also shared a photo of Palmer on social media.

"Palmer is wanted for an aggravated assault that occurred on July 10, 2024, at 15634 Wallisville in east Harris County," Gonzalez wrote on social media. "He is also a person of interest in the capital murder of a Harris County Sheriff's Deputy."

What led to the deputy's killing

According to Chief Deputy Mike Lee, deputies heard a call at about 10:10 p.m. Wednesday regarding an aggravated assault at a Little Caesars Pizza on Wallisville Road.

A suspect came in to pick up a pizza but became upset because the order was incorrect.

That's when he verbally assaulted the clerk, pulled out a gun, and pistol-whipped the employee before taking off, Lee said.

The employee described the suspect's vehicle to detectives, including the license plate.

The plate was tracked to the 13200 block of Italian Cypress Trail, near Tidwell Road and Highway 90, after deputies entered the number into the county's Flock camera system.

Officials said Esqueda, one of the many detectives working overtime to keep everyone safe after Hurricane Beryl, responded and notified his team members over the phone that he spotted what he thought was the vehicle.

"During that phone conversation, our deputy apparently was ambushed," Lee said. "The other detectives in the area went to his location, and at that time, saw his undercover vehicle with multiple gun strikes in it."

The shooter hit Esqueda multiple times, Lee said.

Lee added that rather than wait for EMS, due to the severity of his injuries, Esqueda was placed in a patrol vehicle and rushed to the hospital, where he died.

A number of houses and a vehicle across the street were also hit by gunfire. Neighbors said the people who live in the homes were not there at the time because of the power outage in the neighborhood.

Walter Trappio said he returned from the hotel he had been staying in on Thursday to find a significant law enforcement presence. Deputies on the scene told him his house had been shot during the incident.

"If I was in there last night, who knows what could have happened?" Trappio asked. "I wasn't there. God kept me away from there, not knowing this was going to happen. It's just a heck of a thing. You don't know what's going to happen in this world anymore. It doesnt matter where you live."

Trappio said he has never spoken to Palmer before but has seen him.

The Violent Person Task Force, which Esqueda was a part of, is a group that hunts down child rapists, homicide suspects, and "some of the most egregious criminals out there," Lee told ABC13.

Deputy's sister was first to find him, family says

ABC13 spoke with Esqeuda's family shortly after HCSO announced the young deputy's death.

"Every time I see the news, I'd pray it wasn't one of them," Brenda Esqueda, the oldest sister in the large family, said. "And now, it came true. Now, it is one of them."

Brenda Esqueda said her brother and another sister worked undercover for HCSO. Brenda's sister was one of the first deputies on the scene after Fernando was shot.

"She pulled him out of the car," Brenda Esqueda said. "They just loved their job. They just loved doing what they do. They just loved it. Their jobs came first."

Brenda Esqueda also talked about her last conversation with her brother a few weeks ago.

"He was gone too fast. Out of all my brothers, I helped my stepmother raise him because he was the more active one. He wouldn't stay still for nothing. I told him that I loved him so much," she said.

When asked how she wanted her brother to be remembered, Brenda Esqueda said as a hero, a lovable, kind person, the center of attention, and the one who would start the party.