FORT WORTH –– When two officers and Jerry Waller surprised each other deep in the night last May, it initially looked like there would be no trouble, according to the account given by police to the medical examiner.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday released results from an autopsy of a Fort Worth homeowner who was fatally shot by a rookie officer responding to an emergency call at the wrong home.
It said Waller was ordered by officers to lay down his weapon, a five-shot .38 revolver, and that the 72-year-old complied by placing the gun on the trunk of his car. There was physical evidence on the car to support that.
But then the autopsy report states, "as the officer allegedly attempted to secure the weapon, that [Waller] grabbed the gun and was then shot approximately six times.”
It turned out to be seven times. One of three shots to the chest hit Jerry Waller's heart.
The report was made public the day after a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict the officer who fired the fatal shots, Ofc. Richard Hoeppner. The grand jury listened to 25 hours of testimony before making their decision. Their reasoning is not made public.
"Since we don't have anyone to interview other than two police officers, we just don't have an answer,” said Fort Worth police chief Jeff Halstead Wednesday. “And that is going to haunt the Waller family and us."
None of the shots were fired at close range.
“No visible soot deposition or gunpowder stippling is identified on the surrounding skin and there is no muzzle imprint present,” the report notes.
The incident occurred on May 28, 2013. Police were dispatched to a home across from Waller’s on Havenwood Lane after an alarm went off. It’s not clear how the two officers wound up at Waller’s home, but they encountered the 72-year-old with a pistol near his driveway. The officers reportedly identified themselves and ordered Waller to set the weapon down.
Chief Halstead said Jerry Waller did not come out of his garage that night, and he said neither officer knew they had gone to the wrong house on a burglary alarm until after they were told later by a detective.
Halstead has said that the officer feared for his life and made a snap decision based on the information they had at that time, and that once they encountered an armed man, the officers followed their training.
"The decision comes as a great relief for our officers,” Halstead said of the grand jury’s decision, “but I don't think it brings answers needed for many of the family."
Waller died in his garage.
Hoeppner will not face disciplinary action, Halstead said. The other officer, Benjamin Hanlon, was later fired for falsifying a report on an unrelated case.
The Fort Worth Police Department is in the process of acquiring body cameras for officers. Chief Halstead said if officers had been wearing cameras, video evidence from the night of Jerry Waller’s shooting would have answered all the questions months ago.