FORT WORTH -- A Tarrant County grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot a grandfather in or near his own garage last May.
The grand jury heard more than 25 hours of testimony over four days before no-billing Ofc. Richard Hoeppner. No one other than the grand jurors are allowed to be present during testimony and grand jurors do not reveal a reason for their decision.
“This was a very thorough and conscientious grand jury, who spent many hours scrutinizing the evidence and testimony in this case,” said Tarrant County Deputy Chief District Attorney Jack Strickland. “This community is fortunate to have grand jurors that take their job as seriously as this one has. That said, this was a tragic event and our hearts go out to everyone involved.”
On May 28, 2013, police responded to an alarm at the house across the street from 72-year-old Jerry Waller's home on Havenwood Lane. The 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. Hoeppner opened fire, hitting Waller multiple times. Hanlon was later fired for falsifying a report unrelated to this incident.
Hoeppner's attorneys, led by Jim Lane, said that was the right decision based on the forensics discovered at the scene.
They said it was clear Waller didn't fully comply with officer's orders during the encounter.
Hoeppner, according to Lane, endured hours of questioning during two separate days of the grand jury review.
"As the case really unfolded, it went from being at the wrong house to an entirely different set of facts," said Lane.
Kathy Waller, the victim's wife, said in May her husband might have mistaken the officers for burglars, just as they apparently mistook him for a suspect.
Waller's family was critical of the way the Fort Worth Police Department presented the case publicly.
It is standard procedure for the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office to refer cases directly to a grand jury in officer-involved shootings. The family declined to comment about the no-bill, instead saying they will "comment at the appropriate time after the completion of the investigation being undertaken on behalf of the Waller family."
Fort Worth police Chief Jeff Halstead said no case has ever troubled him more than Waller's shooting. He promised to meet with residents of the slain man's neighborhood to ensure they have complete confidence in the department and in the investigation.
Halstead also said the investigation could have been concluded quicker and with much less speculation had his officers been wearing body cameras. His goal is to provide those to all Fort Worth police.
As it stands, he said, investigators and the grand jury relied on accounts from the two officers and any forensic evidence available. He said both officers were absolutely convinced they were at the right house and confronting an armed suspect at a crime scene. He said there will be no disciplinary action against Hoeppner.
“This tragedy has been devastating for the Waller family, friends and neighbors. We respect the decision of the Grand Jury and now that this investigation is complete, we hope the healing process can continue. I will ensure that our department continues to examine and review all circumstances regarding any use of force. We will remain focused to improve officer training and further build trust within our community.
“This tragedy has weighed heavily on the hearts of the men and women of the police department. Personally, I have rarely felt so much sadness from a tragedy within our community. The Waller family has been and will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. I also ask for continued prayers and support for Officer Hoeppner and his family.”
"We've put our confidence in Chief Halstead and his department to give any use-of-force incident a complete and thorough review to ensure the public's trust in those sworn to protect. A Grand Jury of citizens reviewed the reports and evidence in this case, and we respect their decision. The thoughts and prayers of this city continue to be with the Waller family, their neighbors and Officer Hoeppner."