Homeowner reaching for gun when officer shot him, newly released documents show

01/30/2014 4:24 PM

11/12/2014 3:49 PM

Homeowner Jerry Waller initially followed a Fort Worth police officer’s commands to put down his gun, but then grabbed it from atop the trunk of his car as the officer moved to retrieve it, according to additional autopsy report documents released Thursday.

The new details were part of the autopsy report, portions of which were not previously released because a criminal investigation was underway. The report was completed in July 2013, and parts of it were released Oct. 31 in response to a request by the Star-Telegram.

Waller, 72, died May 28 after being shot multiple times by officer R.A. “Alex” Hoeppner as Hoeppner and partner Ben Hanlon searched for a possible burglar at what they would later learn was the wrong house. The alarm call had actually come from across the street.

Family members have said that Waller went outside to investigate what he believed was an intruder before he was shot in his garage.

On Wednesday afternoon, after four days of hearing more than 25 hours of testimony, a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict Hoeppner on criminal charges.

The account was included in a report by the medical examiner’s investigator. It was based on an interview with an officer in the Fort Worth police crime scene unit, which investigated the evidence at the scene.

Waller, the crime scene officer said, was holding a .38-caliber revolver when he confronted Hoeppner.

The crime scene officer “advises that the decedent was allegedly ordered by the officer to lay down his weapon, that the decedent complied by placing it onto the trunk of his car,” the report states.

But as the officer attempted to secure the weapon, “the decedent grabbed the gun and was then shot approximately six times by the officer,” the report states.

The report states that the detective in charge of the investigation related similar information, including that Waller had reportedly fallen atop his weapon after being shot and that one of the officers had retrieved the gun from him as they waited for an ambulance to arrive.

In an email sent to the Star-Telegram Friday, Art Brender, the Waller family’s attorney, noted discrepancies in the information now being released about the case.

“Initially, we were led to believe that Mr. Waller would not put his gun down and now they are stating he had - there is a lot of this story that will come out shortly,” Brender said.

Police officials have never publicly disclosed the details in the investigator’s report.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead said the report confirms what investigators told him in multiple briefings. He has said that he did not discuss details because he wanted to preserve the integrity of the criminal investigation and out of respect for Waller’s family.

He said evidence at the scene corroborated those accounts.

“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.”

According to Halstead, Hoeppner had made contact with Waller as the homeowner came out of his kitchen door into the garage near the rear of his Volkswagen car.

Hoeppner “sees that there is a gun in his hand,” Halstead said. “He [Waller] is walking by his Volkswagen very slowly. He looks at the officer. The officer is yelling, ‘Fort Worth Police! Drop the gun!’ ”

“Mr. Waller, in a series of a few seconds … he turns slowly, places the gun on the trunk of the Volkswagen and looks at the officer. Within just a few seconds, maybe two seconds, Mr. Waller makes an abrupt turn, grabs the handgun and levels it with his left hand at officer Hoeppner.”

Halstead said Waller’s actions came out of nowhere.

“For no reason at all, no words, no communication, he jerked around with his left hand, grabbed the gun, pointed it at Hoeppner, and Hoeppner reacted to the threat,” Halstead said. “… It’s that why. Why did he direct it right at the officer? It makes no sense, but all of our evidence proves that is what occurred.”

Halstead scoffed at some suggestions that the officers were rookies who were not trained to handle such an encounter.

“He handled this exactly in the way they’re trained,” he said.

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