‘A Gem of a Person’: Friends, Colleagues Remember Sandeep Dhaliwal

Dhaliwal, who was fatally shot from behind during a traffic stop was the first Sikh sheriff’s deputy on the force.

3 min read

Sandeep Dhaliwal carried a badge and a gun while devoting his life to a faith that teaches love and peace.

Dhaliwal, who was fatally shot from behind during a traffic stop on Friday, 27 September, was the first Sikh sheriff's deputy on a force that covers an area including the nation's fourth largest city of Houston. Four years ago he won an accommodation to wear his turban and a beard while patrolling, Associated Press reported.

Locals held a candlelight vigil for the slain deputy and a memorial service was held as people from the community came to pay tribute to him.

‘A Gem of a Person’

Friends said Dhaliwal, 42, was an example of how love-inspired service to others can tear down walls of distrust and misunderstanding.

“He was just a gem of a person. He was a beautiful soul,” Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the New York-based Sikh Coalition, said Saturday. “Everyone who knew him admired him greatly.”

"It gave me great comfort to know he was here," a member of the community who was present at the candlelight vigil held in his memory said.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales said that Dhaliwal had literally given his life for the community. “To be shot so violently, ambush-style, is just beyond words,” he said.

"He was a hero," Gonzalez said. "Deputy Dhaliwal was a trailblazer."

"There are no words to speak to how heartbroken we are, how devastated," the sheriff added.

Ability to Live His Faith

Some friends of Dhaliwal said his life showed how the presence of multiple cultures and faiths can enrich the country.

“It’s such a powerful message to send to the community that a man in a turban and beard is just as much American as you,” said Simran Jeet Singh, according to Associated Press.

Even so, Dhaliwal's primary motivation was the ability to live his faith, said his friend Manpreet Kaur Singh, an attorney and Sikh Coalition board member who is not related to Simran Jeet Singh.

"When you wear your articles of faith, you're telling the world 'I stand up for injustice, for people and for the greater good’," she said.

Dhaliwal was a member of the Sikh National Center in Houston, said its chair, Hardam Azad, speaking to Associated Press.

Azad said Dhaliwal often would speak with young people at the center, showing his sheriff's badge.

A widely-shared video of Dhaliwal posted on the Facebook page of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office showed him laughing as he allowed a boy to handcuff him and then unlock the handcuffs with the key.

Gonzales wrote on Twitter that the video captured the essence of Dhaliwal.

"Ever since 9/11 happened, a lot of hate crimes have occurred against the Sikhs," Azad said. "The way to counter that was exactly the kind of service Sandeep Dhaliwal provided to the larger community."

A Passion for Public Service

Prior to Dhaliwal's hiring, Azad said the center had been in conversations with then-Sherian Garcia to bring a Sikh onto the force.

Dhaliwal stepped up, he added.

“His passion for public service was obvious to us all,” Azad said. “There are some people who live angry lives. He was anything but angry.”

Dhaliwal's father was a police officer in India before moving his family to the United States. The deputy said in a 2015 interview that "serving in the police force is natural" to Sikhs who value service.

When Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, Dhaliwal joined others in the Sikh community to help feed those left homeless. Then when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, he travelled there to help.


Didn’t Fear Being Targeted Because of His Appearance

"There are just those people who come out passionate in the world, and you don't know what drives them," said Manpreet Kaur Singh. "He wanted to make sure he helped people. I had no idea what made him sacrifice his time."

She said Dhaliwal didn't fear being targeted because of his appearance, but he did help ensure that Sikh places of worship were protected on Sundays by off-duty officers.

She also said Dhaliwal was deeply affected by the 2015 killing of another deputy, Darren Goforth, who was gunned down at a gas station while fuelling his car.

Dhaliwal “really jumped in and helped with the vigil, helped put together the memorial,” she said, according to Associated Press.

Dhaliwal is survived by a wife and three children, as well as his father and sisters, Manpreet Kaur Singh said. His mother died last year.

She said she has a picture of him taken the day the policy change allowed him to wear his turban.

"He was so excited. I never had the foresight to see the possibility of him dying in the line of duty," she said.

(With inputs from Associated Press.)

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