By Naheed Rajwani The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Dallas police Officers Rogelio Santander and Crystal Almeida were just rookies, but even veteran cops were envious of their chemistry.
He was the one who cracked the jokes. She was the shy one.
The best friends were inseparable as they patrolled the streets of northeast Dallas in one squad car. Santander did most of the driving. Almeida took the lead on writing reports.
“It was a car full of laughs every day,” said Senior Cpl. John Arnold, their class adviser and fellow northeast patrol division officer.
The partnership ended Tuesday afternoon, when police say a suspected shoplifter with no history of violence shot them and a Home Depot loss-prevention officer as they tried to arrest him.
Santander, 27, died on Wednesday. Almeida and Scott Painter, both 26, remained in critical condition but were improving and surprising doctors with their recovery.
Devastated by the shooting, Santander’s and Almeida’s supervisors were even more saddened by the fact that it tore apart one of the tightest pairs in the northeast division.
“Those two were like this,” northeast patrol Sgt. Tim Lewis said, crossing his fingers.
Academy classmates usually go their own way after graduation, sorted into different patrol divisions and paired up with unfamiliar officers.
Not so with Almeida and Santander.
“You would be lucky, lucky if you can make it through a career with one good partner,” said Lewis, who’s been on the department longer than a decade. “The relationship that they had, you would be lucky.”
Santander was raised in Dallas. He made up his mind about becoming a cop after hearing a Dallas police officer talk about dangerous drugs at his elementary school.
He went on to attend Skyline High School and Texas A&M University-Commerce before returning to Dallas to join the Police Department. He wanted to become a community police officer for the area where he grew up, Arnold said.
Almeida was raised in El Paso. She played basketball in high school and was well liked by her teammates, her coach told the El Paso Times.
“She was always at practice and very dedicated,” Paul Baca told the Times. “No matter what, you can always count on Crystal.”
She’d apply that same dedication to law enforcement.
She worked at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility in Fort Stockton for two years before applying to the Dallas Police Department, where a few of her relatives were officers.
Santander and Almeida joined the department on the same day: Dec. 3, 2014.
Almeida was the quiet one in their academy class, but she wasn’t as shy when it came to training. She enjoyed using a Taser on a trainer wrapped in a red protective suit and practicing to use a baton, Arnold said.
Santander was patient, and his trainers said he always wore a grin. He even smiled during the dreaded academy tradition of getting sprayed in the face with Mace.
Three summers ago, the classmates-turned-brother-and-sister stood side by side as they recited the oath that would officially make them Dallas police officers.
They were eventually assigned to the northeast division, which tends to be one of the busiest patrol areas in the city, after a bid process that takes officers’ work preferences and the department’s needs into account.
“They were as humble as humble pie,” Lewis said.
He often teased Sgt. Shannon Smith, who supervised the pair, that he would someday poach Santander and Almeida to work for him because of how productive they were on the streets.
But they also took time to appreciate the people they worked with. They’d drive downtown to visit their dispatcher and bring her coffee.
Smith shared a moment with them the weekend before they were shot. Over the radio, he asked for someone to bring him a kit to test possible drugs.
“And who shows up?” the sergeant said. “Almeida and Santander.”
The two got to work as soon as they arrived. Santander walked over to the officer who was already there for a rundown of the call as Almeida walked over with the test kit.
“I’ve got some damn good officers,” he told them. “You guys are squared away.”
That was the last time he saw Santander.
Officers arrested Juarez after a five-hour manhunt that ended in a high-speed car chase through the city. He remains in the Dallas County Jail, facing multiple charges that include capital murder, with bail set at just over $4 million.
When Almeida regained consciousness after surgery last week, the first question she asked was about her partner: How was Rogelio doing?
They had to tell her he didn’t survive.
Smith said he got a chance on Thursday to sit by Almeida’s bedside and comfort her, but she ended up comforting him.
She waved as soon as her sergeant walked into her hospital room and told him, “I love you, Sarge” as he held her hand. The 47-year-old man burst into tears.
She pulled him in for a hug and told him she loved him repeatedly.
“I finally had to pull myself together and tell her, ‘Hey, I’m here for you!’” Smith said. “It made my day, my week, my year.”
©2018 The Dallas Morning News