Suspect charged in shooting death of a Houston-area deputy who responded to pizzeria assault

HOUSTON (AP) — A suspect was arrested and charged with the fatal shooting of a Houston-area sheriff’s deputy who had joined a search for a man who pistol-whipped a Little Caesars Pizza worker over a mistaken order, authorities said.

Deputy Fernando Esqueda, 28, was killed early Thursday morning after reporting that he had located the assault suspect's vehicle, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

Ronald Palmer Jr. was arrested around 7 p.m. Thursday, Gonzalez said during a news conference Thursday night, hours after authorities urged him to turn himself in.

Court records show Palmer is jailed on charges of capital murder of a police officer and two counts of aggravated assault. Prosecutors have asked that he be held without bond.

Court and jail records do not list an attorney who could speak on Palmer's behalf. Phone numbers associated with Palmer were either disconnected or messages were not immediately returned Friday morning.

Harris County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the reported assault at a Little Caesars Pizza in the Houston area just after 10 p.m. Wednesday. A customer who came in to pick up a pizza got upset because the order was incorrect and pistol-whipped the clerk and fled, Harris County Chief Deputy Mike Lee said.

The clerk provided a description of the customer's vehicle and its license plate number, which was traced to a location where deputies began searching for the vehicle, Lee said.

Esqueda located the vehicle around 12 a.m. Thursday, Gonzalez said. Officers found Esqueda shot multiple times and rushed him to a hospital.

“We don’t know exactly what transpired at that point. Again, we’re still trying to put the pieces together,” Gonzalez said. “But at that point, it appears he was ambushed. He sustained serious gunfire and was subsequently pronounced deceased at the hospital upon arrival.”

Esqueda was “very well thought of” as a member of an elite task force focused on violent people and had been with the sheriff’s office for about five years, Lee said.

The deputy had been working 12-hour shifts along with all other sheriff’s department staff to provide security and prevent looting after Hurricane Beryl, Lee said.