FORT WORTH -- Documents obtained by News 8 Friday give the first detailed account of what officers say happened the night they encountered 72-year-old Jerry Waller inside his own garage in May 2013.
Two rookie officers had gone to the wrong address in responding to a burglary call. According to the Fort Worth Police Department’s internal investigation, the officers turned off their car lights a few houses away. Their GPS did not lead them to the specific address, they went to the wrong side of the street, the officers cut across the lawn so they didn't see addresses on the curb, and there were no addresses on the facade of the residence.
Officers thought they were at 409 Havenwood Lane North. Instead they went to the back of 404 Havenwood, where Officer RA Hoeppner found Jerry Waller armed with a handgun inside his garage. The other officer on the call, Benjamin Hanlon, was searching the rear of the home when Waller first emerged.
Kathleen Waller, Jerry Waller's widow, told investigators after the shooting that she woke up her husband that night because the dogs were barking and she wanted him to check the car alarm. She said she heard pounding and yelling outside, but has hearing issues so she could not understand what was being said.
According to the report, Officer RA Hoeppner told investigators the garage light came on, and the officer was fully illuminated and should have been visible in full uniform. Hoeppner was unsure whether Waller was an occupant of the residence or the burglar, according to the report.
Hoeppner told investigators he repeatedly told Waller to drop his revolver. He said Waller responded, "Why?" According to the investigation, Hoeppner and Waller were about 13 feet apart.
“The whole entire time I’m giving commands, 'drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun,'" Hoeppner told investigators. "And he’s not dropping it and he had this attitude towards us that... It was almost an attitude of, 'You can’t tell me to drop my gun.'”
He described Waller as "very hostile" and "unpredictable" in the initial interview with Fort Worth police investigators.
"All he had to do was put the weapon down and say, 'Hey guys I live here, let me help you, what are we doing?'" said Hoeppner's attorney, Jim Lane. "That didn't happen. And Hoeppner keeps saying to me, 'Why? Why? Why Jim, why?' And we'll never know."
At that time, Hanlon heard the commotion and came to the garage, when he saw Waller with a pistol and yelled, "Fort Worth P.D., put the weapon down," according to the report.
Hoeppner said Jerry Waller did set his revolver on his car and took a step back, at which point the officer say they lowered their flashlights and their handguns, but kept them "unholstered in a ready position."
Ofc. Hoeppner said he took a "half-step" toward Waller's gun on the trunk to secure it, but as he did, Waller "scrambled" for the weapon, grabbed it and pointed it at him in a “ready” position. Hoeppner said Waller “panics” or “freaks out.”
“[...]At that point in time when he put... Put the gun... Pointed the gun at me, I mean, I was almost positive that he was going to shoot me and kill me,” the officer said.
Click here to view the full report
In his second interview with police investigators, Hoeppner said he "firmly" believed Waller was trying to find a point in time "when it was the most beneficial time for him to shoot me.” Investigators said Hanlon's initial interview after the shooting matched the details reported by Hoeppner.
Officer Hoeppner fired. Hanlon said Hoeppner was in front of him, so he didn't fire his weapon.
Hoeppner told investigators it happened so quickly, he was unsure if Waller had shot him. “I was trying to feel my other hand, like to see if I was hit, because like I had no idea who fired,” he said.
Hanlon told investigators from the time Waller grabbed his gun to the time the shots were fired was "maybe a second," that Waller had his arm extended out and the gun pointed at Hoeppner, and that he believed if Waller had had the opportunity, he would've shot Hoeppner.
"Under those circumstance he did what any police officer would do, any police officer would do," Lane said.
Jerry Waller had seven bullet wounds, including one in his heart. Only six shots were fired, but the medical examiner said at the time of the autopsy one of the rounds may have grazed Waller's arm and entered his torso.
Lane, Hoeppner’s attorney, said the fact that one bullet went through his hand and came out the elbow shows that Jerry Waller had his arm out, pointing the gun at the officer.
Hanlon then got on his police radio and requested MedStar and a supervisor to the scene. Not realizing they were at the wrong address, Hanlon told dispatchers to come to 409 Havenwood.
From the time Hanlon arrived back the at garage to when he put out the shots fired call was less than 45 seconds, records of the officers' radio traffic showed.
Both Hanlon and Hoeppner led investigators on independent walkthroughs of the shooting. The only discrepancy in their accounts of the night since occurred here, in which Hanlon said Hoeppner was within a couple of feet of Waller when the 72-year-old went for the gun, then backed away as he shot him. Hoeppner maintained he was 13 feet from Waller throughout the incident.
Both officers stressed they were focused on Waller and his gun, which could have led to the discrepancy, the report states.
A Tarrant County grand jury relied on the investigative report and interviews before declining to indict Ofc. Hoeppner this week.
Officers who later went to 409 Havenwood Lane North to check on the initial burglary call found it to be a false alarm.
Attorney Art Brender, who represents Jerry Waller’s family, said he has tried for months to get the critical incident report. He released this statement Friday night:
"It is highly suspicious that the City is now releasing documents that it refused to produce in response to the request of the Waller family for over the past eight months. There are other requested documents about this incident that the City still refuses to produce that are required to be produced under the Open Records Act. The real story about the tragic shooting of Jerry Waller at the hands of Fort Worth police will be brought forward in the next days and weeks."
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead has said his department did not want to release any investigative documents until the grand jury had heard the case. Halstead said he now wants as much information out as possible, for the Waller family and for the public.
"This kind of fact situation, unless you know it all, creates mistrust among the people out here about their police department and in fact, it's just the opposite," Lane said. "Hoeppner did exactly what he was trained to do. Was it a tragic event? Absolutely. Is everybody sorry about it? Absolutely."
News 8's Teresa Woodard also contributed to this report