Civil Liberties

Cops Shot an Innocent Guy at the Wrong House Because It Was Dark, Say Fort Worth Police


Jerry and Kathleen Waller
Family Photo

As Scott Shackford noted at the time, Fort Worth, Texas, police shot 72-year-old Jerry Waller to death on his own property in May while responding to a reported burglary across the street. What they were doing on the man's property was an open question. Now, from a search warrant affidavit police wrote up to allow them to gather evidence that they had plugged the guy that they had just plugged, we know that the cops say they were lost because it was dark. And, there are a few questions about the veracity of their version of events.

From the just-released search warrant affidavit (PDF):

On Tuesday May 28, 2013, at approximately 0051 hours the Fort Worth Police Department Communications Division received a Residential Burglary Alarm originating from ADT Security Systems at 409 Havenwood Lane.

Fort Worth Police oficers, Officer B.B. Hanlon, ID 4080, and R.P. Hoeppner, ID 4066, assigned to the East Patrol Division were dispatched at approximately 0051 hour and arrived on the scene at approximately 0058 hours. Due to poor lighting conditions and officers attempting to arrive on the scene undetected by potential criminals and the need for officer safety confitions, Officers Hanlon and Hoeppner inadvertently began searching 404 Havenwood Lane, directly across the street from 409 Havenwood Lane.

Officers approached the west side of the house near the garage that is located on the southwest corner of the home with the knowledge that there was a possible burglary in progress. There is no lighting around the home and the officers had only the use of their flashlights.

As the officers approached the garage they encountered a subject who was armed with a handgun standing near the corner of the home. Officers identified their selves as police officers and ordered the subject to drop the handgun. The subject failed to comply and pointed the handgun at Officer Hoeppner and Officer Hoeppner fired on the subject fatally wounding him.

Note that the affidavit asserts that Kathleen Waller, Jerry Waller's freshly minted widow, "has possession of and is concealing evidence of a homicide." That homicide presumably being the killing of her husband by Forth Worth police. This is probably standard phrasing for these legal documents, but still …

So, we know that Officers and Hanlon were at the Waller residence because they were so concerned for "officer safety conditions" that they didn't use their flashlights to check the street address. They then prowled around a property, the owner of which had no reason to expect visitors. As his family said in a statement:

On the night of his death, Jerry heard noise behind the house, and went to investigate. He picked up his gun as protection. While no one in the family was present at the instant of his death, his body was witnessed immediately after, inside his own garage. We were disturbed by suggestions that police may have felt threatened by a man in his own garage faced with unknown trespassers wielding flashlights.

The family says that Waller was "inside his own garage," while police say he was "standing near the corner of the home." Family members flat-out accuse the police of lying, with son Chris Waller asserting, ""My father never stepped outside of his garage. He was shot multiple times in the chest only a few steps away from the doorway to his kitchen."

In the latest news report, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says, "Waller was pronounced dead at 1:26 a.m. inside the garage." Unless he crawled there with a reported six wounds to the chest…

I'm not sure it should matter, either way. The officers were stamping around a private residence, in the dark, without permission.

The Star-Telegram also reports:

An autopsy on Waller has also been completed.

On Wednesday, however, the Tarrant County district attorney's office sent a letter to the attorney general's office, contending that the autopsy report should not be released to the Star-Telegram because of the pending investigation.

By the way, many of the businesses in my town use ADT Security. The systems falsely alarm so often that the police department started charging for responses. They're generally pretty good about checking the street address, though.