Nicole Hensley, St. John Barned-Smith
Deadly gunfire between police and a wanted man erupted as residents of a Harris County apartment complex prepared Monday to go work and school, sending several — children among them — to the ground for safety.
As the gun smoke settled, residents saw that three people — two Houston police officers and one of their neighbors — had been shot in the exchange. One of the officers — William Jeffrey — later died at Memorial Hermann Hospital.
The two officers and other law enforcement officials were at the apartments in the 5300 block of Aeropark Drive, north of the East Aldine area, to arrest a man suspected in a narcotics case. The wanted man opened fire on police, officials said, adding that the two officers never had a chance to return fire. A third officer shot the suspect — killing him.
Authorities lauded Jeffrey as a 31-year veteran of the Houston Police Department. The other officer, said to be in stable condition, was identified as Sgt. Michael Vance. He joined the department in 1998.
Several sisters of the suspect who gathered at the scene identified him as Deon Ledet.
Resident Lynnmaries Turner quietly weeped as she recalled seeing her neighbor’s body outside the home.
She was speechless, she said.
“It was horrible. Kids were walking. They had to get down,” Turner said. “It was just overwhelming.”
The shooting happened around 7:30 a.m., interrupting preparations for work and school for several residents. One neighbor, Monica Scott, spotted several plainclothes officers descend on Ledet’s apartment. Several neighbors saw a woman step out of the apartment with a baby moments before the shooting.
“I saw one (officer) at the back door and one at the front,” Scott said. “I said, yeah, it’s going to go down.”
A panting officer soon called for backup on police radio traffic and said, “We’ve got two officers shot. Need an ambulance,” according to police radio traffic.
Eyewitness video of the aftermath showed several officers standing over Jeffrey as one law man gave him CPR to no avail.
Police Chief Troy Finner outlined the shooting at the hospital. He said the officers had knocked on the door and asked a woman there if the person they were seeking was home. A suspect came out and immediately fired on officers, Finner said.
The two officers were with the Major Offenders Division, which routinely handles arrests of some of the city’s most dangerous criminals. The officers were serving an arrest warrant on the accused shooter when he allegedly began shooting.
Paramedics rushed the wounded officers to Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, one by ambulance and one by helicopter.
The shootings come nearly a year after deaths of two other officers by gunfire: Sgt. Sean Rios, who was shot and killed in November 2020, and Sgt. Harold Preston, just weeks before, in mid-October.
Jeffrey spent almost 31 years with the department.
“Most of us knew him personally, I’ve known him my entire career,” Finner said. “It’s just as his wife said — what a great man, what a great officer.”
Finner said Jeffrey’s wife had also worked at the department but recently retired. They have one child, and were building their dream home, he said.
“He’s a great man and great family man,” Finner said.
Friends recalled Jeffrey as a boisterous, hard-working officer.
“Everybody knew him, he was a squared-away officer,” said Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
The two met when Jeffrey was working on a tactical team based in the department’s South Central patrol station.
“He was an informal leader to that unit,” Griffith said. He hadn’t been surprised to learn Jeffrey had ended up working in Major Offenders.
“He was really good at catching crooks,” Griffith said. “If there was someone you needed found, he was the man for that.”
Finner said that because the shooting occurred in the county, the sheriff’s office would be investigating the incident alongside HPD’s internal affairs division.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the team was at the home to run a “high level felony warrant.”
“Our heart breaks for our brothers and sisters with the Houston Police Department,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to do everything we can to handle a thorough investigation for all involved.
As he has in the past during other tragedies, Finner called on the city to come together, to support Jeffrey’s family and to help police “crush” violent crime.
Ledet’s family said he worked as a security guard at a scrapyard and was the father of six children. He had had numerous run-ins with the law dating back to 2008, and had been charged multiple times with aggravated assault.
Court records show authorities had sought an arrest warrant for Ledet in January, months after he had been charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. Undercover officers in that case said they caught Ledet with a bag of pills.
According to information from the District Clerk’s office, Houston police arrested Ledet in mid-November.
Prosecutors initially sought to have Ledet held without bail even though he hadn’t been charged with a capital crime, arguing he’d twice previously been convicted of a felony. A magistrate judge set bail at $40,000 initially; State District Judge Greg Glass subsequently agreed to a request from Ledet’s lawyers to reduce his bail to $20,000.
He made bail and listed the Aeropark Drive apartment as his residence. Almost immediately, Ledet violated the terms of his pre-trial release, by failing to show up to Pre-Trial Services to obtain an ankle monitor, additional court records show.
“The defendant had 3 days to report to PTS to receive a GPS upon release,” a pretrial services worker wrote. “The defendant was released on 11/18/20. The defendant has not reported as of 11/30/2020.”
Ledet’s lawyer, hired in January, could not be reached for comment.
A new warrant for his arrest in January and re-issued again in March, after the indictment, records show.
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