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Photo: Melissa Phillip, MBO
A prominent local law enforcement officer gunned down Monday in an apparent ambush told county officials last week he felt threatened by a man he’d once targeted in a corruption investigation.
Clint Greenwood – three months into a new job as a chief deputy constable – shared his concerns with officials in the Harris County Attorney’s Office who were handling an administrative matter related to the case, according to a source who asked not to be identified because of the nature of the investigation.
“I believe (this person) poses a real threat to my (safety) and my family’s safety,” Greenwood said in an email sent Thursday to the county attorney’s office.
Greenwood was shot to death before 7 a.m. Monday, moments after pulling into the parking lot of the courthouse annex in Baytown where he worked, officials said.
“It’s a hit, no doubt,” said one top federal official assisting with the investigation. “He basically got ambushed.”
The killing sparked a massive manhunt that shut down portions of the neighborhood surrounding the courthouse, as deputies combed the area while helicopters circled overhead.
Authorities said they were investigating several leads but had not made any arrests. Late Monday, Baytown police released a video clip of a vehicle possibly linked to the slaying and a description of a man who was seen in the area at the time.
Baytown police described him as a white or Hispanic man, about 6 foot to 6-feet-3, with short hair and a medium to stocky build.
Police said he was a wearing a dark jacket with some kind of patch on the sleeve.
Greenwood’s concerns about the corruption case were passed along to law enforcement, the source said.
A reward of up to $65,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and charges in the case through Crime Stoppers, 713-222-TIPS.
LifeFlight carried Greenwood to Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. A police motorcade then escorted his body to the medical examiner’s office.
He is survived by his wife, two children and two step-children.
Greenwood – a former private attorney, prosecutor and law enforcement officer who spent the last years of his career fighting corruption – had started work Jan. 1 as an assistant chief deputy constable.
“The Harris County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office has suffered a great loss,” Constable Sherman Eagleton said, at a news conference Monday. “I just want to send my condolences out to the family. And also the deputy’s brothers and sisters in law enforcement that worked with Chief Greenwood.”
Baytown police are leading the investigation with help from state, local and federal law enforcement officials.
Greenwood’s slaying was one of five high-profile shooting attacks on officers in Harris County in the last two years.
In August 2015, Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was shot and killed at a northwest Harris County gas station. Precinct 7 Deputy Constable Alden Clopton was shot in an ambush attack late at night while helping a colleague with a traffic stop, but survived. In February, two Houston police officers were shot and wounded while conducting anti-burglary operations on the city’s southwest side.
Criminal justice fixture
On Monday, Greenwood arrived at his usual time and parked in his usual spot before gunfire rang out.
He was shot once, Baytown Police Lt. Steve Dorris said shortly after the shooting.
“Whether or not he was specifically targeted, or whether this was because of the uniform he was wearing or the place he pulled up to in the morning, we just don’t know that right now,” Dorris said.
Wanda Asbeck, who lives next to the courthouse annex, heard the gunfire just before 7 a.m. She looked outside and saw Greenwood lying on the pavement next to his SUV.
Asbeck works in the constable’s office and recognized him right away.
“It just made me sick,” she said. “He was such a good man. Why would anyone want to kill him?”
Greenwood grew up in north Harris County and quickly became a fixture in the Harris County criminal justice system.
He worked as a reserve deputy at the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office for nearly two decades, while simultaneously working as a private defense attorney, largely representing police officers.
In 2009, he joined the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as chief of the Police Integrity Division under District Attorney Pat Lykos. It is the unit responsible for investigating police officers and presenting the cases to grand juries.
During his four years with the DA’s office, he led the case against Houston police officers accused of beating 17-year-old Chad Holley, a case that sparked widespread protests.
In 2013, he joined the Harris County Sheriff’s Office as a major, overseeing the department’s Internal Affairs Division, General Investigations Division and Office of the Inspector General. He oversaw the internal probe into misconduct by an investigator in the Goforth case.
He had moved into a leadership position with the Precinct 3 constable’s office, where he had put together field training and use-of-force manuals.
A graduate of Spring Woods High School, Rice University and what was then South Texas College of Law, he also had worked as a visiting justice of the peace and taught cadets at the Houston Police Department‘s training academy.
Over the years, he took 4,200 hours of education classes as well as 1,600 hours of additional training, obtaining a master peace officer certification in 2012, state records show.
“He was one of the best guys you’d ever want to work around,” said Ron Hickman, a former Harris County sheriff and Precinct 4 constable.
Shock and outrage
The shooting Monday brought a swift outpouring of condemnation from local and state leaders.
“We will send a message that such vile acts will not be tolerated in the Lone Star State,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “I am confident that the perpetrator of this swift and despicable act will be apprehended and that murder will be met with swift justice.”
Outside Memorial Hermann Hospital, Greenwood’s colleagues and relatives greeted each other with hugs, handshakes and tears.
“He was an incredible human being, a cop’s cop,” Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen said, minutes after a motorcade escorted Greenwood’s body from the hospital to the medical examiner’s office.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg was among those grieving at the hospital.
“We knew him as a lawyer, law enforcement officer and colleague respected in every role,” Ogg said later, in a statement. “Our prayers are with his family.”
“I am sickened and profoundly saddened by the brutal killing of Deputy Greenwood this morning,” Emmett said.
“We ask the entire community to please stand by us,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to do everything we can to track down whoever was responsible for this.”
At the Harris County Criminal Courthouse in downtown Houston, lawyers and officers who had known Greenwood for years were in shock.
“He was a great friend, a great husband and a great father,” said Jim Leitner, an administrator in the district attorney’s office. “He was one of the best friends I ever had.”
Brian Benken, Greenwood’s former law partner – who also worked with him at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office – was shaken by the news.
Benken said he and Greenwood ran a law practice together for several years before they both went back into investigations. “We both just liked the investigative side better,” said Benken, who works as a private investigator.
Even those who clashed with his anti-corruption efforts said Greenwood was affable outside of work.
“We used to butt heads,” said Bob Goerlitz, a Harris County Sheriff’s Office patrol deputy who headed the Harris County Deputies Organization for five years. “He was very stern on the business side.”
‘Clint was there to help’
Mourners held an impromptu vigil Monday evening, with plans for a “Back the Blue” convoy Tuesday.
Friends recalled Greenwood as a service-minded, hardworking person who went out of his way to help people.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Cannon first met Greenwood in high school in the 1970s.
They raced motorcycles and went shooting together. Cannon bought his motorcycle from Greenwood in 1974.
“Whenever I had a problem with my motorcycle, he’d come over and help me,” he said. “Clint was always the go-to guy. If something needed service, he knew how to work on it. And he knew how to get something fixed.”
Greenswood’s friends struggled Monday to come to terms with his death.
“Clint was absolutely a target, for whatever reason,” Cannon said. “But he didn’t need to be a target. Clint was there to help. And whoever this person was, Clint probably would have reached out to help him as well.”
St. John Barned-Smith, Keri Blakinger, Lindsay Ellis, Margaret Kadifa, Andrew Kragie, James Pinkerton, Marialuisa Rincon and Brian Rogers contributedto this report.
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