10 years later, North Richland Hills police shooting remains unsolved

Posted Saturday, Mar. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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At the time of the crimes in 2003, witnesses described the suspect as white, in his mid-30s to mid-40s, 5 feet 6 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, and 190 to 280 pounds. He had short, dark hair, acne scars on his face and, during the bank robbery, wore a straw cowboy hat, a bandage over his left eye and a long, possibly fake, mustache.

His getaway vehicle has been described as a mid-1980s red Jeep Wrangler with a black soft top, oversize tires, a black tire cover on the rear, fog lights with the letters “KC” across the jeep’s front, no front license plate and a paper Louisiana tag taped to the rear bumper.

Anyone with information is asked to contact North Richland Hills police at 817-427-7000.

Audio: "I've been shot"

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NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- After an afternoon of looking for speeders, North Richland Hills officer Jeff Garner and his fellow motorcycle officers were contemplating breaking for lunch when he noticed the license plate of a passing red Jeep.

"Something caught my eye about it," Garner recalled. "It was a paper tag and it didn't look legitimate. It was drawn up to look like a Louisiana buyer tag."

Garner pulled out and began following the Jeep, eager for a closer look but not sure whether he'd pull the driver over.

The driver, it turns out, pulled over on his own.

Garner was stepping off his motorcycle when the Jeep driver took off, leading the officer on a cat-and-mouse chase that ended in a muddy field with the Jeep making a U-turn and driving straight at Garner.

"I took a few running steps as I was trying to get away and looked back over my shoulder to gauge his distance," Garner said. "That's when I saw him pull the gun and point it out the window."

Trapped in midstride with his back half-turned, Garner prayed for an opportunity to defend himself as he dived toward the grass and shots rang out. Struck in the ankle, Garner rolled in the grass and returned fire as the driver drove out of sight.

"I'm shot! I got shot!" he shouted on his hand-held radio.

A decade later, Garner is a lieutenant with the department who sometimes shares his experience as a training tool for other officers. The shooter -- who authorities said had just robbed a bank in Watauga -- was never caught.

"I don't have any concern for my own safety. I doubt the guy has any animosity toward me -- it's just I stood in the way of his freedom that day," Garner said. "But obviously that's a very dangerous individual.

"Most people are not going to confront us or fight us until they're cornered or trapped, but there is that certain breed of people who their first reaction is going to be to attempt to kill you. To me, this is one of those individuals."

'Coming right at me'

Garner was in the hospital when he learned that the gunman had robbed the Bank One in the 6600 block of Watauga Road minutes before their encounter March 3, 2003.

"I had my ideas about what he might be running for. I thought obviously it was a stolen vehicle or something," Garner said. "Certainly, when I found out he had just robbed a bank, that brings it all in perspective."

FBI officials have said that the robber walked into the bank about 1:20 a.m., told a teller he was armed, and demanded money.

He fled with an undisclosed amount of money in the red Jeep Wrangler that Garner spotted in the 7100 block of Bursey Road.

Because they were on a separate radio channel, Garner said, he and his fellow motorcycle officers never heard Watauga's dispatch about the nearby bank robbery. In fact, once the Jeep driver began fleeing, Garner said, radio issues blocked his broadcast about the pursuit.

His fellow motorcycle officers knew nothing about the chase, unable to hear the motorcycle siren over the sirens of Watauga patrol units headed to the bank robbery.

His transmission “I’m shot” was the department’s first alert that Garner was in trouble.

Looking back, Garner believes that the driver intended to do more than just lose him when he stopped the Jeep a second time and once again fled after Garner got off his motorcycle.

“I think he was actually looking for an opportunity to ambush me,” Garner said, explaining that there was a jogger nearby. “I think what stopped him that time is seeing that jogger and not wanting another witness.”

The robber eventually drove the Jeep into the field bordered by fences and houses.

Knowing that the driver had no place to go, Garner stopped his bike and waited. When the Jeep made a U-turn, Garner assumed that the driver intended to drive past him and continue the chase.

Using training he’d undergone the week before, Garner got off his bike and drew his weapon.

“My thought at the time was, I was going to get off my motorcycle and use my motorcycle as cover for when he drove past and then get back on my motorcycle as he continued the chase,” Garner said. “As I’m getting off the motorcycle, he spun out in the mud and changed his angle to where he was coming right at me.”

'God took care of me'

The gunman fired five or six times. One round entered the outside of Garner’s right lower ankle, exiting several inches up.

Fortunately for the officer, the hollow-point round penetrated an area of his boot where the leather was at double thickness.

“The leather plugged up the hollow point so it didn’t expand,” Garner said. “That saved me from a lot of physical damage.”

The officer was off-duty one month and on desk duty another month before being released back on the streets.

“If it would have been just a few millimeters either way, it might have severed the Achilles tendon or shattered the ankle bone,” Garner said. “God took care of me in amazing ways that day.”

Investigator Keith Bauman, a spokesman for North Richland Hills police, said investigators have vetted 64 leads in the case, the majority coming within the first two weeks of the investigation.

“Several investigators have worked on this case since its inception,” Bauman said. “There were several names that came to the investigators through difference sources, but no individuals have been arrested.”

Though the statute of limitations for the bank robbery has expired, police still hope to track down Garner’s shooter.

“As frustrating as it is, there’s been some value in that for me in the sense that there’s a lot of times when we’re not able to bring other people to justice or we have citizens upset that we haven’t been able to solve their crime,” Garner said. “It gives me a healthy perspective on how they feel in those situations.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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