A Fort Worth police undercover officer was critically injured early Friday when he was shot in the head while trying to stop suspects in an armed robbery.
Officer Garrett Hull, a 17-year veteran of the department, is fighting for his life, police say.
The robbery happened shortly after midnight at the Los Vaqueros sports bar at 403 W. Biddison St.
The man suspected of shooting Hull, Dacion Steptoe, was shot and killed in a shootout with police, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said. Two other suspects were arrested: Samuel Mayfield and a man who was still being interviewed early Friday afternoon. His name has not been released.
Hull had been among officers conducting surveillance of the three men, who were suspected of being responsible for a series of increasingly violent robberies targeting Hispanic-oriented establishments since at least June. Fitzgerald said robbery investigators, the criminal intelligence unit and special reaction teams were assisting in the investigation.
“We put our very best on this case,” Fitzgerald said.
While being watched, police say, the three suspects entered Los Vaqueros and committed a robbery inside the bar.
As the suspects and frightened patrons ran from the bar, the officers, including Hull, did an excellent job in differentiating between the suspects and innocent customers, Fitzgerald said.
“I can’t say enough about, again, the level of heroism that took place this morning,” he said.
Police said officers confronted the suspects a short distance away in the 3500 block of May Street.
“The suspects were trying to get into a vehicle,” Sgt. Chris Britt said. “They were not able to do so, so they continued to run on foot.”
Multiple uniformed officers had joined in the pursuit when at least one of the suspects, believed to be Steptoe, pulled a gun and began firing, striking Hull, police said. The bullet, Officer Bradley Perez said, entered Hull’s forehead and did not exit.
Officers returned fire, killing Steptoe, and administered first aid to Hull, the chief said.
Perez, a police spokesman, said 10 officers were involved in the confrontation.
Fitzgerald said three people have been shot by this group during robberies.
“These individuals were being tracked and believed to be involved with many other similar robberies, not just in Fort Worth but possibly in other local jurisdictions,” Perez said.
After fellow officers rendered aid to Hull, he was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, Fitzgerald said.
“There was mayhem at the scene,” he said.
At around 11 a.m. Friday, two vehicles were being towed off of May Street — a maroon GMC Sierra truck and a blue Ford SUV. The back window and back passenger window of the SUV appeared to be shot out.
Fitzgerald credited the officers’ “tremendous hard work” with leading to the suspects’ arrests.
“We’re not looking for anybody,” he said. “We have our suspects in hand.”
Fitzgerald said that at every meeting police have had since the robberies began, they’ve talked about the three suspects.
“I can’t say enough about the units who are involved in this,” he said. “It may have taken a bit to get these guys, but we got them ... the collateral damage is we have an officer fighting for his life.”
The men have been tied to at least 17 cases. In one robbery — at El Corral on July 13 — a customer was shot in the head. Some of the cases occurred outside of the city limits. Two other victims have either been shot or shot at, Fitzgerald said.
Rick’iee Zepeda, a manager for Los Vaqueros sports bar, did not want to answer any questions about the robbery and shooting when reached for comment Friday morning but said, “May all of our prayers be with the officer.”
“Prayers to him and his family,” Zepeda said in a message to the Star-Telegram. “Thank you to the Fort Worth police department for everything they do. It was a very terrifying experience.”
Police said they believe there are still other robbery cases that haven’t been reported, perhaps because business owners feared police scrutiny. Fitzgerald encouraged any victims to contact police or Crime Stoppers at 817-469-8477.
‘He’s the rock of that unit’
At a press conference shortly before noon Friday, Fitzgerald said there had been no change in Hull’s condition.
“Family members are with him now and at his side,” he said.
Hull initially worked a 10-year stint with the police department from 1999 to 2009, according to Perez. He then left the department for two years but returned in 2011, Perez said.
He was welcomed back with open arms, the chief said.
“He is the rock of that unit,” Fitzgerald said. “That says a whole lot about a person.”
Hull is a husband and a father of two.
Fitzgerald said that while everyone wants to be there for Hull’s family, they need time to rest and time to “make decisions about his medical future.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called for citywide unity in support of the police, and asked residents to reach out to any officers they might encounter on the streets and thank them for their service. “We care about you,” she said, gesturing to the officers attending the media briefing.