Gov. Greg Abbott described HPD Sgt. Steve Perez as “the epitome of a true Texas hero.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke from his heart when he told almost 2,000 mourners at Perez’ Sept. 13 memorial service, “He ran his race. He was faithful, and he finished his course.”
Police Chief Art Acevedo, the leader who first reported to Houstonians that they had lost a good faithful servant in the deadly flood waters of Hurricane Harvey, tearfully told the crowd:
“When he drove into the water that morning, God was there to catch him. He served as an absolute testament of the excellence of the men and women in blue.”
The Sea of Blue
Sgt. Perez was faithful to the job and no one emphasized that better than his son Maverick, who said, “He had a calling, a calling to protect the great city of Houston.”
Maverick told the mourners his dad stayed fearless and steadfast in a job his son and daughter soon realized was dangerous, yet one that always demonstrated their father’s strong faith – in policing and in God.
These messages about the dedication of the 114th HPD officer to pay the ultimate sacrifice while serving the citizens of Houston were presented to a packed crowd at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heard on St. Joseph’s Parkway.
The sea of Houston blue was joined by state troopers and officers from numerous other agencies, many of whom were quartered in the still-flooded city to support HPD’s overburdened patrol force. Others came from as far away as New York and California.
The brave sergeant’s memory was honored not just with special tributes and a beautiful religious service but also a 21-gun salute, an HPD helicopter flyover, the playing of Taps.
The last words Perez uttered to his family before he drowned while diligently attempting to drive through flood waters to his downtown duty station will forever be a part of HPD mantra:
“We’ve got work to do.”
Sgt. Perez, a 60-year-old veteran of 34 years on the Department, drowned in high water roughly where the Hardy Toll Road meets Beltway 8. He was the second HPD officer to drown.
(The first was Officer Andrew Winzer on Feb. 18, 1988. Winzer’s patrol was struck by another vehicle, slipped over, crashed through a rusty guardrail and fell 40 feet down into the cold, murky waters of Buffalo Bayou).
Perez is described as religious, deeply committed to HPD and helping his colleagues serve the citizens of Houston. It didn’t surprise Chief Acevedo or any of Perez’ friends in the Department that he wouldn’t let high water get in the way of his devotion to duty.
“He was a soldier,” Lt. Richard Spencer said of his long-time friend. “There was no doubt he would get up and go.
“He was a true servant, really. He would always stand up on that call. Stand up and take it to that first-class level. He took a lot of pride in that.
“He took pride in doing the job at a high level. He got a lot of good compliments, commendations, things like that when we performed. He got them because he did things in a first-class way.
“He just did it on a regular basis. Look and you will find 70 or 80 or more commendations in his file from citizens, supervisors, the mayor. He was just that type of person. He had way about him. He was kind. He was always there to help.
“When we first became acquainted with each other, he was my subordinate in Special Ops. One of the first things he said was he wanted to help.”
Lt. Spencer currently works days in the downtown patrol division security operations unit. He was a pall bearer.
Another colleague, fellow HPD Sgt. David Morgan, got well acquainted with Perez while the two were on a special beat in Special Ops. They were assigned to be part of a motorcade featuring former President George H. W. Bush.
“I’ve been knowing Steve 20 years or so,” Morgan recalled. “I first met him in Special Ops. He was a sergeant at the time assigned to protect important people. He helped me with some problems. He was a very helpful person, very resourceful. He went out of his way to help.”
Morgan first worked under the sergeant as an officer but later promoted to sergeant himself and the two worked traffic enforcement.
“He was what you would call ‘old school’ and by the book,” Morgan explained. “He would get the job done without any loose ends.
“Steve was dedicated. We were scheduled to work together that day (when he went missing). I couldn’t get in. I live in Missouri City. The freeways and the freeway ramps on 59 and 90 were all flooded. I texted him but he didn’t text me back.
“Come to find out his wife thought he was at work. That’s when we knew something bad had happened.”
Morgan said he had worked with his friend Steve in three different assignments, saying, “At this point in his career he was an old school sergeant who dealt with people real good. I would describe him as more kickback, more relaxed. Whatever we had to do, he went out and made sure it got done.”
“He was always funny,” Lt. Spencer recalled, saying the two had many private jokes. “He was just a good person. He went to the seminary before he got on the Department. And he went into the military. He was a supervisor there. He made a decision not to (become a priest). He abandoned that idea and became the family man he was until he passed.”
Spender continued: “He and I had a personal relationship and always joked, pointing each other in the right direction. Telling each other truthfully how we felt. He cared enough about my wellbeing and I cared about his as well.”
The lieutenant said Perez was willing to try anything he thought would improve his own wellbeing and that of HPD. Perez became bike certified, for instance, but while he did well with two wheels, he didn’t pass muster on four legs.
“He got on a horse,” Spencer said, trying not to laugh. “He was thrown off the horse seven times. He got a concussion and ended up being off work for a long time.
“There are certain times in your career when you ask yourself: Do you wanna do this or that? He had the gung-ho approach and he’d get up and go after it – like him going to work that morning. He had to get up and go. He put his mind to it and did it.
“He truly did what he believed.”
Spencer said the horse experience clearly showed that Perez got over the hurdles. “He had a love for HPD and had a love for God. He had a good attitude about wanting to help you. If you came to Steve, he would help you. He had a good attitude about helping you.
“You don’t find that everywhere. He was a great guy, a great friend, someone you could trust. He was loyal to me. I don’t have anything bad to say about Steve.
“The job is about relationships, not policing.
“I definitely will miss Steve. I won’t forget what he brought to the table to me. I will use his life as an example for me to maintain the things that were good about him.”
Sgt. Steve Perez was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 31, 1956 but got his education in Catholic schools when his family moved to San Antonio. Following his graduation from Robert E. Lee High School in the Alamo City, he stayed home and earned a political science degree from St. Mary’s University in 1978.
The son of a firefighter, he wanted a military career and entered the Army as a second lieutenant. Later, in the Army Reserve, he earned the rank of major.
In 1982, he joined the HPD in Academy Class No. 109, where, as an officer, he served in Juvenile and Northwest Patrol. He promoted to sergeant in 1992. He has been assigned to Emergency Communications, Northeast, Special Operations, Crime Analysis and Command Center, Vehicular Crimes and Traffic Enforcement.
Perez holds the special distinction of being a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
He and wife Cheryl have been married 30 years. In addition to son Maverick, they have a daughter, Sabrina. He’s also survived by his mother, Veronica Perez, and two sisters, former Houston TV reporter Rosalinda Perez Keegan and Wanda Perez.