HOUSTON - A Houston police officer is recovering after being shot in the back during a traffic stop in Midtown Tuesday evening.
Officer Terry Smith and another motorcycle unit officer were conducting traffic duties in the 4200 block of Main Street, across from Sears, around 6 p.m.
The driver Smith pulled over had already left the scene and the officer was chatting with the other motorcycle officer.
At some point, a shot was fired in the direction of the officers and Smith was struck in the back.
"The officer was putting away his ticket book and stuff he needed for the traffic stop," HPD Capt. Dwayne Ready said. "He was leaning over into his saddlebag when they heard the pop and it was shortly thereafter that he felt pain."
Just before the shooting, both officers saw a champagne-colored Buick, believed to be involved in an accident with a white Jeep minutes before, pull into the parking lot. The driver was a man and the passenger was a pregnant woman. They both fled after shots were fired.
Officers are gathering surveillance footage from nearby cameras, hoping to find evidence that could lead them to the mysterious shooter.
"We're on the hunt for videos as well as other evidence," Ready said.
The shooting happened next to a busy METRO rail line, but investigators said they think the shooter was in a car.
"We believe at this time, since there wasn't a lot of foot traffic, it's got to be a passing vehicle that fired the rounds," Ready said.
HPD Chief Charles McClelland said Smith underwent surgery and is in good condition. McLelland said Smith is expected to make a full recovery. Several officers and family members were at Memorial Hermann Hospital to support Smith.
"A small-caliber projectile (was) lodged in his frontal stomach area," McClelland said.
The bullet did not hit any of Smith's vital organs. Smith is a 20-year HPD veteran and father of six children.
McClelland's concern is that police don't know why Smith was shot.
"This is particularly troubling because we don't know how it happened, why it happened at this point," he said. "We're still gathering those facts."
Mayor Annise Parker joined McClelland fellow officers and family members who rallied to Smith's side as he went into surgery.
"We were pleased to learn that he was awake and alert and communicating when he came in, but they moved him to surgery," Parker said.
McClelland and Parker said they don't know yet if Smith was targeted or whether the shooting is connected to tensions between officers and the public in other parts of the country.
Douglas Griffith, the vice president of the Houston Police Officer's Union, said he is concerned about these possibilities.
"All over the nation you see attacks on police officers for no apparent reason other than they're wearing a uniform," Griffith said. "It saddens me."
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