CONROE, Texas — A 19-year-old shoplifting suspect in Conroe was shot and killed by an off-duty sergeant who said the teen choked him to the point of nearly passing out, police said.
The Conroe Police Department said officers were dispatched to the Walmart on N. Loop 336 W after store employees tried to stop a young man, Russell Rios, who allegedly stole a pair of iPhone cases early Wednesday evening.
Off-duty police Sgt. Jason Blackwelder was briefed by the workers and chased down the suspect in a wooded area southwest of the store, according to police.
“Once in the woods, the suspect and the officer became engaged in a very intense struggle, and at one point the officer was being choked by the suspect,” said Sgt. Dorcy Riddle. “… to the extent that he thought he was going to lose consciousness.”
Blackwelder fired his weapon, striking Rios and killing him. The sergeant was treated for minor injuries at the hospital and later released.
KHOU 11 News spoke with friends and family of the suspect early Thursday.
Family members didn’t want to go on-camera, but friends said Rios had just started working at a bank and was going to Lone Star College. They said they are upset over his death and questioned the officer’s use of deadly force.
As per protocol, the sergeant will be placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of the investigation, police said.
“There was no point to kill him. There could have been a warning shot. There could have been another way of protecting," Aldair Ortega, friend of Rios, said.
Another friend agreed.
“His life shouldn’t have been taken for a stupid iPhone case. Let the kid run,” Dolores Gutierrez said. “His mother would’ve been more than happy to pay Walmart back for a case.”
In an unrelated crime, police were called back to the same Walmart on Thursday morning after a man was carjacked at gunpoint. No injuries were reported.