The police officer who shot and killed Jerry Waller as he stood in his garage said the homeowner had a “very standoffish attitude with us” and that “in my mind he was going to shoot and kill me,” according to a police report released Friday afternoon.
The officer, R.A. “Alex” Hoeppner, who along with officer Ben Hanlon had responded to a burglary call at the wrong house in the Woodhaven neighborhood on May 28, said he repeatedly told Waller to drop his gun and that at one point Waller asked “why?” and also told the officers to “get that light out of my eyes.”
Waller, 72, did eventually put his gun on top of a car but “scrambled” to pick it back up, according to the 26-page police report.
Waller then “swung the handgun in the direction of Officer Hoeppner,” prompting Hoeppner to fire his weapon six times, according to the report.
Waller was pronounced dead at the scene with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.
Officer Hoeppner said everything happened so fast that he wasn’t sure who had fired their weapon.
“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. I ’m telling you like as soon as he pointed that barrel at me I was … I was … I was putting rounds cause like that’s what I thought he was going to do,” Hoeppner said, according to the report. “I thought that when he freaked out and grabbed that gun like … in my mind he was going to shoot and kill me right here.”
A Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict Hoeppner on criminal charges earlier this week. Police Chief Jeff Halstead has said the grand jury made the right decision, saying evidence was clear that Waller had pointed his gun at Hoeppner.
“I think it was proven through the autopsy and evidence that a gun was pointed directly at officer Hoeppner and he was forced to make his decision …” Halstead said, explaining that the trajectory of Waller’s wounds shows that the homeowner had his arm outstretched.
But according to the police report, a doctor with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office stated that “it was difficult to determine when and how the projectiles struck Waller’s left forearm, wrist and left hand since the shooting incident was a continuously changing and dynamic situation and his exact body positioning, at the time that Waller was struck, was unknown.”
Art Brender, an attorney representing the Waller family, said it is “highly suspicious” that Fort Worth released the documents “that it refused to produce in response to the request of the Waller family for over the past eight months.”
“There are other requested documents about this incident that the City still refuses to produce that are required to be produced under the Open Records Act,” Brender said in an email to the Star-Telegram. “The real story about the tragic shooting of Jerry Waller at the hands of Fort Worth police will be brought forward in the next days and weeks.”
Unaware of address numbering system
Police have said that Hoeppner and Hanlon didn’t learn until after the shooting that they had searched for a possible burglar at the wrong house at 404 Havenwood Lane; the call had come from across the street at 409 Havenwood.
In the report, investigators said Hanlon was the primary officer on the call, and Hoeppner followed him to the location. But Hanlon said the computerized equipment in his patrol car was in the “map it” mode during the call, and only gave him the “general area” of the location.
Also, Hanlon claimed 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, according to the report.
“Also, based on Officer Hanlon’s experience (three months in solo status) he was not familiar with the numbering system in the City of Fort Worth in which all even number residences are commonly on the opposite side of the roadway as the odd number residences,” the report stated.
After arriving at the Waller residence, Hoeppner said he saw a suspicious vehicle parked in the back part of the driveway, perhaps to prevent anyone from seeing intruders approach the home, and that’s why the officers approached the back of the residence, according to the report.
Hoeppner stayed near the garage as Hanlon went to the front of the house, where he knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, prompting someone to turn on a light inside.
‘Put the weapon down’
Waller then entered the garage, activating the light inside, and he was carrying a gun, according to the report. Hoeppner drew his weapon and told Waller to put the gun down. Hanlon joined Hoeppner and pulled his weapon, also telling Waller to “put the weapon down,” according to the report.
Hoeppner, interviewed after the shooting, said he didn’t “understand what he [Waller] was doing, he was holding the gun, I told him several times to put the gun down. He set it down then he grabbed it and pointed it at me,” according to the report.
Hoeppner said Waller “panics” and “freaks out” when he stepped toward the handgun after Waller had put it down. He said “I don’t know if he didn’t want me to touch the gun …” according to the report.
Hoeppner described Waller’s actions as unpredictable and the officer did not know what Waller was going to do next.
“Is he bluffing me and he’s going to come back up and shoot us if we just stand here or I can make a straight line for it and try to grab it first, and I’m not quick enough or I trip, you know, all these kinds of things coming in there and ‘bang’ he shoots me …” Hoeppner said, according to the report.
Officer Hoeppner continued, “… or can I try, like kind of show him, you know, hey, you know we’re friendly, we’re not trying to hurt you, you know what I mean. Like let’s work this out … I just want the gun.” Hoeppner also said, “We can talk about this, you know, I mean, I didn’t say that but I … that’s a thought, ” according to the report.
He continued, “I was almost like he had the attitude of you … you cannot tell me what to do with my gun in my … you know, in my castle. It’s almost like, you can’t tell me what do.”
Halstead said on Thursday that evidence at the scene corroborated the officers’ accounts that Waller grabbed the gun after putting it down.
“You could see where there was a settling of dust on the vehicle, then something made a fresh sweep of the trunk,” Halstead said. “Extensive testing … revealed that Mr. Waller’s prints and other DNA-type evidence matched the trunk and the revolver.”
This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.