Family of man fatally shot by Fort Worth police disputes details



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Posted on May 29, 2013 at 3:37 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 29 at 10:16 PM

FORT WORTH — The family of a 72-year-old homeowner killed by police said Wednesday they were "disturbed" by the way the Fort Worth Police Department presented the man's death to the media.

The city's mayor promised a "full and transparent investigation" of the case.

Jerry Waller, who police said was armed with a pistol, was shot to death in or near his garage about 1 a.m. Tuesday. The incident began when an alarm sounded in the house across the street from Waller's on North Havenwood in east Fort Worth.

Police officials said Tuesday it wasn’t clear how two responding officers — identified by police as Richard A. Hoeppner and Benjamin B. Hanlon — ended up at Waller’s house. They encountered him with a pistol inside or near his garage. One or both officers opened fire, hitting Waller multiple times.

Officials said the officers — both of whom graduated from the police academy last November — identified themselves to Waller, but felt threatened.

"When I went out there, the place was totally dark," said Kathy Waller, the victim's wife. "All I could see were flashlights.”

She said her husband might have mistaken the officers for burglars, just as they apparently mistook him for a suspect.

“They just came down my driveway, flashing lights, and he thought it was burglars going after his car,” Mrs. Waller said Tuesday night.

The family released a statement Wednesday that said they were "deeply troubled by the police department misrepresenting details of the incident in their interviews with the media," and that Jerry Waller's body was found in his own garage.

"We were disturbed by suggestions that police may have felt threatened by a man in his own garage faced with unknown trespassers wielding flashlights," the family's statement read. "We look forward to a full investigation of this terrible incident that will lead to meaningful steps to ensure that nothing like this will happen again."

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price released this written statement on Wednesday evening:

"No words can describe the pain the Waller family is going through, and I hope we all continue to pray for this family who’s lost a husband, father and grandfather. I'm also praying for the officers involved in this terrible tragedy. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but I know this incident will be thoroughly reviewed from every angle. I talked with Chief [Jeff] Halstead, and he assured me there would be a full and transparent investigation — that's what I expect, and that's what this family deserves."

The Fort Worth Police Department Major Case Unit is heading up the investigation. Wednesday afternoon, the department released the identities of the officers involved and revealed both were hired in October 2012.

Fort Worth police Sgt. Kelly Peel said the department "will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation," which could take several weeks to complete. Once the investigation is completed, it will be reviewed by Chief Halstead.

Halstead released a statement expressing sympathy for the family, but said he would not be available for an interview about the incident until the investigation is completed.

Steve Hall, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association asked the community to be patient during the investigation, saying it's too early to assign blame.

"Members of the community who would like to portray these officers in a negative light don't know these facts, either," he said.

Jerry Waller was a retired businessman, grandfather, and veteran.

"Beyond the tragedy of his death, we hope that everyone will remember the spirit of Jerry’s life," the family's statement read.

His wife said the couple had been married 46 years.

“He’s a wonderful husband,” she said. “I miss him dearly.”

WFAA reporter Jobin Panicer in Fort Worth contributed to this story.