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Letter lays out case for firing of HPD officer accused of fleeing shooting that killed sergeant

HOUSTON – A termination letter obtained Thursday by KPRC 2 Investigates showed a Houston police officer was fired after running away from a shooting that left a sergeant at the scene dead.

“Prayers for the Preston family because this is just going to open this wound back up for them,” said Houston Police Officers’ Union president, Douglas Griffith.

The letter signed by former Houston police Chief Art Acevedo reads Officer Vanessa Taylor was being indefinitely suspended for shirking her duty during the October 2020 shooting that killed Sgt. Harold Preston and for her handling of a domestic violence complaint that led up to the gunfire.

According to the letter, a review board determined that Taylor was in a tactically superior position to the shooter. According to the letter, video from her body-worn camera showed that she ran from the scene of the shooting instead of engaging the shooter when the gunshots started. She hid at the back of the complex and failed to assist her fellow officers who had been wounded by the shooting, according to the letter.

“While citizens run from threats to their safety, police officers are expected to engage a suspect who is using deadly force to harm citizens and other officers and to assist injured persons,” Acevedo wrote.

E.M. is Elmer Manzano, the man who has been charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated assault in connection with the shooting.

The letter went on to accuse Taylor of failing to aid fellow Officer Courtney Waller and Preston, even after Waller radioed that he had been hit and that Preston was down and unresponsive.

Sgt. Harold Preston (HPD)

“After Officer Taylor discovered both Officer Waller and Sergeant Preston had been shot, Officer Taylor chose to stay where she was and wait for backup instead of engaging the threat or assisting either officer,” Acevedo wrote.

Taylor is also accused of failing to radio critical information to backup officers responding to the scene and remaining on the perimeter of the scene instead of helping a rescue team.

“When backup officers arrived at the scene, they quickly formed an extrication team, and rescued Sergeant Preston from the side of Mr. E.M.’s front door in order to provide CPR to him,” Acevedo wrote. “Officer Taylor did not assist the responding officers but instead stayed on the perimeter of the scene and watched the other officers respond.”

According to the letter, Taylor did not properly handle the domestic violence complaint at the center of the shooting incident. The letter stated that she and Waller failed to deem the victim as credible, even though her story was consistent and corroborated. That led the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to decline charges of terroristic threat against Manzano.

Acevedo’s letter noted Taylor was working at the police station where Manzano’s estranged wife filed a domestic violence complaint three days prior to the death of Preston. Acevedo noted Taylor helped Mazano’s estranged wife file that complaint.

“Throughout the course of this incident, Officer Taylor showed a severe lack of sound judgment,” Acevedo wrote.

Taylor is appealing her termination. State records show Taylor had been with HPD for five years.

Waller was suspended for 20 days. Sources told KPRC 2 Investigates that Waller was suspended for his handling of an earlier domestic violence claim made by the complainant.

Manzano is awaiting trial.

Below is a copy of the letter that was obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates through a Texas Public Information Act request.


About the Authors:

Aaron Barker has been a senior digital editor at KPRC 2 since 2016. As a meteorologist, he specializes in stories about the weather. He has covered Hurricane Harvey, the Astros first World Series win, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the ITC fire and Tropical Storm Imelda.