Jeff Garner was doing his job as a North Richland Hills motorcycle officer on the afternoon of March 3, 2003, unaware that a bank robber had just held up a bank in nearby Watauga.
Garner encountered him when he attempted to stop a red Jeep Wrangler which had made an unsafe turn in front of him on Bursey Road. The officer pursued the Jeep to 7900 Smithfield Road when the vehicle made a U-turn. Now facing Garner, the motorist opened fire, wounding him in the ankle.
Garner got off his motorcycle and returned fire. The suspect got away and has never been charged in the case.
In addition to the Watauga holdup, the suspect is accused of robbing banks in Oklahoma City, Wichita, Fort Worth, Tulsa and Arlington between October 1998 and March 2003.
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Police appealed for help on Monday, believing there are still residents in the area who may have information that could identify the culprit.
A $13,000 reward is still offered in the case.
Garner survived and he’s now a lieutenant in the department.
“After 15 years, this story is not about me, but about the men and women of law enforcement who are passionate about serving their community and bringing justice to those who have been victimized,” Garner said in an email.
In addition to shooting Garner, the bank robber assaulted employees during his holdups.
“Offenders who commit such crimes may go dormant for a period of time for various reasons,” said police spokeswoman Carissa Katekaru. “However, this individual may return to our community to do harm.”
Katekaru noted investigators are specifically looking at someone who would have exhibited changes in behavior from the late summer/early fall of 1998 up to late winter 2003.
Investigators also noted that the suspect may have:
▪ Expressed anger or resentment toward the banking industry
▪ Previously been employed at a bank
▪ Experienced a loss in income or employment starting in late summer 1998
▪ Made changes in his consumption of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs staring in late summer 1998
▪ Left or moved out of the neighborhood during this time period — perhaps due to incarceration or unplanned, last minute vacation
▪ Expressed an unusual or out-of-the-way interest in driving around the areas where the bank robberies occurred in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas
▪ Altered his physical appearance (growth or removal of facial hair, change in hair color, etc.)
▪ Changed his normal routine
▪ Had unexplained cash
▪ Made displays of anxiety, nervousness or irritability
▪ Displayed an unusual interest in banks and financial institutions
▪ Disposed of property without reasonable explanation
“Oftentimes members of our community have information of value but do not come forward because of concerns that it may not be important or may be a waste of time,” Katekaru said. “Regardless of how insignificant you think your information might be, or whether or not you think we already are aware of it, please let us assess the relevance of the tip.”
The suspect was described in 2003 as a white male, 30 to 50 years old, average height, heavyset with an extended belly and significant acne-like scarring.
In the Watauga bank holdup, he was wearing a light-colored straw hat, a flesh-colored bandaid eye patch over his left eye and fake mustache.
He wore an earpiece in his left ear with a wire hanging from it. He spoke loudly and told a teller he could not hear well, North Richland Hills police said.
Witnesses told police he was wearing a black baseball cap as he fled the bank and he possibly had a smaller real mustache.
He walked into Bank One, 6624 Watauga Road, in Watauga shortly before 1:30 p.m. on March 3, 2003, demanded money and took an undisclosed amont, officials said.
The suspect told a teller he was armed, but no one was injured in the hold-up.
“There are times we can work magic, but just as often, solving crimes comes down to the community,” Garner said. “It’s still a case that needs that member of the community to come forward and tell us what they know.”