When Jerry Waller stepped out of his garage at 1 a.m. on May 28, he had no idea he'd encounter a couple of Fort Worth police officers. The 72-year-old grandfather had heard a noise and suspected burglars, so he roused himself, grabbed his gun, and went to check it out.
Officers B.B. Hanlon and R.P. Hoeppner weren't expecting to see Waller, either. They were investigating a burglary call and decided the armed man lurking in the dark beside 404 Havenwood Lane must be the culprit. According to the department's version of events, they ordered the gunman to drop his weapons. When he didn't immediately comply, Hoeppnner opened fire.
Hoeppner never set out to kill an innocent septuagenarian doing nothing more than trying to protect his home and family. Rather, the shooting was the result of a lightning-fast cascade of mistakes and misjudgments by police that was set off by a single, easily avoidable misstep: They were at the wrong house.
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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained an affidavit on Wednesday revealing that the burglary call had come from across the street at 409 Havenwood Lane. But because it was dark and because they were trying to be stealthy they "inadvertently began searching" Waller's property instead.
The darkness also meant they couldn't really make out the gunman. "There is no lighting around the home and the officers had only the use of their flashlights," the affidavit says.
Tarrant County is refusing to release Waller's autopsy report to the Star-Telegram, citing an ongoing investigation. Both Hanlon and Hoeppner have returned to full duty after a stint on administrative leave.