Catalytic converter theft bill increases criminal penalties following death of Harris County deputy

HOUSTON – A bill that would create penalties for catalytic converter theft now awaits Governor Greg Abbott’s signature.

SB 224 or the “Darren Almendarez Act” would create criminal penalties for catalytic converter thefts and allow prosecutors the possibility of treating the theft as organized crime.

Almendarez was killed in 2022 while trying to stop suspects from stealing his catalytic converters when he was off duty. He was at a grocery store with his wife, Flor Zarzoza-Almendarez.

“The image of him that night never leaves my mind,” Zarzoza-Almendarez said. “It’s always there.”

Zarzoza-Almendarez spoke at the Legislature advocating for SB 224, which was written by State Senator Carol Alvarado, District 6 (D-Houston).

“We are giving law enforcement what they need to be able to question somebody,” Senator Alvarado said. “We’re giving prosecutors more flexibility to add more charges, possibly, if they see fit, and I think it sends a very strong message to people that if you think of engaging in this you might think twice because you don’t want to mess with Texas. You will be prosecuted to the extent of the law.”

Alvarado said she and other lawmakers heard from law enforcement across the state about how they couldn’t arrest people with dozens of catalytic converters.

Under the bill, depending on the total cost of the theft, these are the possible penalties:

  • Class C, B, or A misdemeanor if the damages are between $100 to $2,500.
  • A state jail felony if damages are more than $2,500 but less than $30,000.
  • A third-degree, second-degree or first-degree felony for damages exceeding $30,000.

“It’s now going to give Texas the strictest law when it comes to theft of catalytic converters,” Alvarado said. “By passing this act, no it doesn’t bring him back, but it is giving her some comfort knowing we are taking this seriously and acting on it to make sure it never happens again.”

Zarzoza-Almendarez says she will keep advocating for more legislation. She hopes the U.S. Congress could pass a similar bill.

“The sacrifice that he made for me, I will continue, and I will continue to honor him and to prevent any more death,” she said.

About the Author: