Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News
A grand jury refused to charge a Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed homeowner Jerry Waller when officers responded to a burglary call at the wrong house.
A Tarrant County grand jury no-billed the police officer who fatally shot an armed homeowner while responding to the wrong house during a robbery call last May.
Officer Alex Hoeppner was one of two rookie police officers responding to a burglary call but, due to poor lighting, ended up at the wrong house, police said. While searching the property, Hoeppner ended up fatally shooting 72-year-old Jerry Waller in his own garage.
After hearing more than 25 hours of testimony over four days, the grand jury panel no-billed Hoeppner on Wednesday.
"Because the case involved a shooting by a police officer acting in the line of duty, the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office referred the case directly to the grand jury, as is standard policy with all officer-involved shootings. The panel reviewed all of the evidence and called witnesses and made a decision not to indict, which means no criminal charges will be filed," the Tarrant County DA's office said in a statement.
A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence, only whether or not the facts presented support the criminal charges against the accused.
After learning the grand jury declined to indict the officer, Chief Jeffrey Halstead released the following statement:
“This tragedy has been devastating for the Waller family, friends and neighbors. We respect the decision of the Grand Jury and now that this investigation is complete, we hope the healing process can continue. I will ensure that our department continues to examine and review all circumstances regarding any use of force. We will remain focused to improve officer training and further build trust within our community," said Chief Jeffrey Halstead. “This tragedy has weighed heavily on the hearts of the men and women of the police department. Personally, I have rarely felt so much sadness from a tragedy within our community. The Waller family has been and will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. I also ask for continued prayers and support for Officer Hoeppner and his family.”
Halstead added that Hoeppner will probably second-guess himself “for the rest of his career.”
Neighbors of the Waller family who spoke with NBC 5 said they feel the grand jury made the correct decision.
"I’m sure the policeman feels really, really bad about it himself and he certainly wouldn’t have done it on purpose. It’s just very, very sad," said neighbor, Jese Villagomez.
The police report released last year said Waller had a gun and that officers identified themselves and yelled for him to put the gun down. The officers said the man then pointed the gun at them.
Police said Hoeppner opened fire, fatally shooting Waller in his driveway. Waller was shot three times in the chest and had single gunshot wounds to the abdomen and hand. According to the Tarrant County medical examiner, bullets also grazed his wrist and forearm.
In May, 2013, Kathy Waller, the victim's wife, told NBC 5 her husband grabbed a .38-caliber pistol and went outside at about 1 a.m. when they noticed bright lights outside their bedroom window. While still in the bedroom, she heard yelling at about the same time as she heard gunshots, she said.
Attorneys for the Waller family said Wednesday they do not have any comment to make at this time and that they will comment after the completion of the investigation being undertaken on behalf of the Waller family. Currently, Waller family has not filed a lawsuit against the city or the police department.
The other officer who responded to the call, Benjamin Hanlon, was fired by the department late last year after filing a false sworn statement about an August arrest.
NBC 5's Scott Gordon contributed to this report.