CLEVELAND, Texas - Deputy Richard E. Whitten, with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, was shot and wounded while confronting a suspect in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Whitten was shot in the neck while confronting Pavol Vido, 65.
Vido was wanted in connection with a deadly shooting at the B Dependable plumbing shop on FM Road 321, near New Salem Road.
"First of all, this is the first officer-involved shooting we’ve had since I’ve been sheriff. This is my 7th year. We’re a family - a really close family. There’s a lot of tears been shed on this He’s very close. He’s a very good man. Big heart, loves animals. Love the people he works with. It’s hard when you get somebody hurt that is that good a person," Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader said.
Whitten is expected to recover from his injuries, officials said.
Whitten has been with the department for four years.
On Wednesday night, officials said Whitten was in critical but stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hermann Hospital. On Thursday morning, Capt. Ken DeFoor, spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, said Whitten's condition had been "downgraded to critical."
"He’s a fighter. He’s gonna fight and get his way through it," Rader said Wednesday night. "When I saw him, of course, he’d just got here, (so) he was still in a lot of pain ... but, he’s a fighter. He always has been. He’s a good man."
Tommy Cohen, Whitten's sergeant, said the deputy has a big heart and loves animals.
"He’s a great guy, really," Cohen said. "One of the girls at the vet clinic where this happened said he came up there one day and had cats all over his car - they were crawling all over his dash. He’s one of the most caring people they’ve got …(who) brings them stuff all the time."
Rader said there has been an outpouring of support for the injured deputy.
"There has been an overpouring of support," Rader said. "I’ve really been impressed with the medical staff and the treatment here at Memorial -- some awesome people. I’m getting text messages, phone calls from people that I don’t know that are telling us they’re keeping us in their prayers. I appreciate every bit of that. We need all the prayers we can get right now."
Rader said he heard about the shooting on the radio when he heard reports of an officer down. He said it's the first officer-involved shooting since he was named sheriff seven years ago.
Cohen is Whitten's sergeant. He said the deputies on his shift are very close.
"I’ve got eight men on my shift, including me, that I’m responsible for," Cohen said. "We’re very close. We try to have meals together, show support for each other -- we know what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s a pretty big thing."
Sheriff's Office Capt. William Knox said the Texas Rangers have taken over the investigation. He said the Sheriff's Office's priority was to take care of Whitten.
"We’re going to have people here staying with him throughout this until hopefully, we can get him home," Knox said.
Knox said the department is still working to develop a motive for the shootings.
According to a Facebook post by the sheriff's office:
"Richard E. Whitten has been married for 14 years to Kami Heard Whitten. They have two children who are 22 and 25 years old. Richard graduated from Splendora High School in 1986 and is a lifelong resident of the Cleveland area. He graduated from the Lone Star College Police Academy. In his free time, Richard likes to hunt, fish and spend time with his family. Richard will be assigned as a Patrol Deputy."
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