A Tarrant County Grand Jury on Wednesday declined to indict a Fort Worth Police officer who fatally shot a 72-year-old homeowner last May. Following that ruling, the police chief spoke to FOX4 about the shooting.
Jerry Waller was shot by Officer R.P. Hoeppner seven times on May 28 while he and former Officer Benjamin Hanlon searched for a prowler.
In a search warrant affidavit released in July, police said they were responding to a burglary alarm on Havenwood Lane and went to the wrong address.
They were searching the outside of a home with their flashlights when they saw Waller holding a handgun. Police claim Waller pointed the weapon at officers and did not lower it when asked.
Waller's family disputes the police account of events and said Waller was in his garage when he was shot.
The Grand Jury heard more than 25 hours of testimony over four days.
Both officers involved in the shooting were rookies on the police force. Hanlon was later fired for an unrelated incident. Hoeppner, however, remains on active duty.
"In all my years doing this job and five years of being chief, very few things have personally bothered me literally every day that I work," said Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead.
Halstead says it's been an uphill battle to earn back the public's trust after Waller's death.
"We are a community-based organization, and our public trust is our most treasured gift," said Halstead.
Hanlon didn't shoot at Waller, and Halstead says that was by design.
"Kind of a contact and cover deployment…some agencies refer to this as an L configuration," said Halstead. "What we do not train to do is to have the officers literally stand right next to each other and have the contact and decision making model being so close together; having them separate and having one as the decision maker reacting to a threat and another as a cover officer and still assessing other areas that's appropriate."
Halstead says when Officer Hoeppner realized after the shooting that he had the wrong address, he was crushed.
"And they had other reflections that this looked like it was something was going on at this house, and then they're faced with what they were faced with," said Halstead. "They had milliseconds to make a decision, and they will endure that second guessing of themselves for the rest of their career."
Regarding the mistake of his officer going to the wrong house, Halstead blamed mapping and address technology and poor lighting on Havenwood Lane North.
As for why the department refused to release documents to FOX4 when we put in an open records requests for basic records on the shooting, Halstead said, "It was not released specifically in relationship with the district attorney's office so that it could be presented in its entirety without any other types of tampering or releasing or communicating back to the public."
The Waller family released a statement reacting to the decision through its lawyer.
"Kathy Waller and the Waller family do not have any comment to make on the Grand Jury decision concerning the Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed Jerry Waller in his garage this past Memorial Day at this time. They will comment at the appropriate time after the completion of the investigation being undertaken on behalf of the Waller family."
KDFW FOX 4
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