Waller shooting: A case of confusion, then chaos

Posted Thursday, Feb. 06, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Audio: Officer R.A. Hoeppner interviewed in Waller case (.mp3)

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Confusion reigned in the early morning hours of May 28, when a Fort Worth policeman fatally shot Jerry Waller in the garage of his Woodhaven home.

Kathleen Waller, who awoke to the family’s dogs barking and the lights in the driveway, figured that the car alarm had gone off again. She roused her husband, telling him that she saw lights going on and off in the driveway.

“Oh, that stupid thing does that. The lights go off. They do that,” Waller, 72, remarked before getting out of bed to take care of it.

Outside the Waller home at 404 Havenwood Lane, Fort Worth police officers Ben Hanlon and Alex Hoeppner were searching for a possible prowler, unaware that they were at the wrong house.

The officers had actually been dispatched to a burglar alarm call across the street. Hanlon said it was dark and he “was unable to see the address numbers that were posted on the curb line” in front of the home and on the mailbox.

Minutes later, when Waller entered his garage and encountered Hoeppner, the confusion erupted into chaos, according to evidence and statements in the Police Department’s investigation file, made public by the city Wednesday.

“Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” Hoeppner shouted as Waller appeared, holding a revolver.

Inside, Kathleen Waller wondered why her husband was taking so long.

“And suddenly I heard this pounding. I thought someone was pounding on the wall. And someone yelled something and I don’t know what they yelled. A man’s voice yelled something and they pounded,” Kathleen Waller would tell investigators.

Thinking a neighbor was upset by the barking, Kathleen Waller got dressed and opened the interior door to the garage.

“And then I came out and I couldn’t believe there were lights everywhere. And people had flashlights … and my husband was laying there on the floor,” Kathleen Waller told police. “… It was like he was going out the … he opened the door and he was going out. And the paramedic told me he had a revolver.”

‘Every officer’s worst nightmare’

The report, obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open-records request, included audio and transcript statements from Hoeppner and Hanlon, crime scene photos, investigators’ notes and statements by officers who responded after the shooting.

It was released one week after a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict Hoeppner on criminal charges in the shooting.

Hoeppner remains on the force.

Hanlon was the lead officer on the call, and the investigation found that he led the officers to the wrong house because it was dark and he was unfamiliar with the city’s house-numbering system. He was later fired for an unrelated matter.

Hoeppner said Waller ignored his repeated orders to drop his gun, at some pointing asking, “Why?”

Hanlon, who had been at the front of the house when he heard Hoeppner yelling as if in distress, told investigators that he ran to the back of the home and joined Hoeppner near the lighted garage. He saw a man holding a gun by his side.

“That’s every officer’s worst nightmare pretty much,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon said he yelled “Fort Worth PD!”

Waller, the officers said, seemed standoffish but reluctantly placed the gun on the trunk of his car. As Hoeppner began to approach to retrieve it, the officers said, Waller suddenly grabbed the revolver and pointed it at Hoeppner, prompting the officer to fire six times.

“I was trying to feel my other hand, like, to see if I was hit because, like, I had no idea who fired. It happened so fast, like, quick,” Hoeppner told investigators.

“I’m telling you, like, as soon as he pointed that barrel at me I was … putting rounds cause, like, that’s what I thought he was going to do. I thought that when he freaked out and grabbed that gun … in my mind he was going to shoot and kill me right there.”

‘Is my husband dead?’

Several statements included in the report were from Kathleen Waller — from comments she made to a paramedic and an officer at the scene to a brief interview with a major-case detective while she was in a hospital emergency room after falling ill at the scene.

The statements show that Kathleen Waller’s confusion only increased after she opened her interior garage door to find police there and her husband lying on the floor.

“Let me see your hands,” officer Joshua Gonzales yelled at the woman, grabbing her after she tried to run to her husband and escorting her away from the scene.

“Keep walking and look straight ahead,” Gonzales said he told her before handing her off to Officer A. Chambers.

Kathleen Waller told Chambers that she did not know who had shot her husband and that his car alarm had gone off and he had gone outside to check on it.

She told Chambers that her husband had just recovered from colon and skin cancer and that business had been bad for him.

She said that he had been involved “deep in a court case” and wondered whether someone had come to the house to shoot him over that. She later asked Chambers whether “we had caught the guy who shot her husband,” Chambers recounted in her statement.

Chambers responded by telling her that “I was there to protect her.”

While being evaluated by Aundrea Campbell, a MedStar emergency medical technician, Kathleen Waller asked, “Is my husband dead?”

“Ma’am, your husband is dead,” Campbell replied, according to a MedStar report.

Kathleen Waller began crying.

‘Don’t tell me he died’

“How could this be?” she asked. “We just had a Memorial [Day] cookout with our son and we were going to get new patio furniture and my husband just bought me this shirt for the party. … This is a dream. Wake me up.”

“Whoever this was is a monster. Who will kill a man who is so nice and does nothing but good things for people?” Kathleen Waller later added, according to the MedStar report.

At the hospital, while talking to major-case Detective D.L. Baggott, Kathleen Waller recounted the night again, then told Baggott that a paramedic had informed her that her husband was dead.

“This is not happening. This isn’t happening. He didn’t die. … Don’t tell me he died,” Kathleen Waller said.

Baggott said she was waiting to confirm that information.

Kathleen Waller later expressed concern over the other piece of information that the paramedic had shared — that her husband had a gun.

“I just felt that the policemen if they came to an alarm call and he came out with a gun that, you know, he wouldn’t know who they were or nothing, you know … and then he had a gun in his hand, you know, they might have thought he was going to,” Kathleen Waller told the detective. “… I don’t even want to think about it.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd Lee Williams, 817-390-7840 Twitter: @leewatson

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