At approximately 1am on Tuesday, Jerry and Kathy Waller awakened to the sound of a burglar alarm emanating from the house across the street in their posh, country club neighborhood. The occupant of the home in question, a widow in her 80s, lived there alone. Being the good neighbor and kind, generous man he is (as described by neighbors), 72 year old Jerry grabbed his handgun and started outside to see if he could help the woman. A few minutes later Jerry was dead.
Fort Worth police, responding to the burglar alarm, arrived at the scene and saw Jerry in his driveway with a gun in his hand. They were driving marked police vehicles with lights and sirens and were in full police uniform. They identified themselves as police officers to the man with the gun just before shots were fired. Jerry was hit 5 or 6 times (reports vary) and died at the scene.
There are conflicting reports of whether or not the officers ordered Jerry to drop his weapon. Both officers involved in the shooting, each reportedly with less than a year on the job, said they felt they were in danger from the gun wielding Jerry when they fired.
One neighbor who spoke with the police after the shooting was a former Fort Worth City Council member. She said the two officers openly wept when they discovered the tragic mistake. Jerry’s wife was interviewed by TV reporters and said the police were “trigger happy”. Of course, regardless of the circumstances his wife is going to be understandably upset.
I may catch some flak for my opinion but here’s how I see it.
Jerry was in his driveway at 1am with a gun in his hand. The police encountered him on an emergency response to a possible burglary. IF they warned him to put the gun down and he didn’t, for whatever reason, then the shooting was most likely justified even though Jerry wasn’t the bad guy. And that’s a big IF. IF they didn’t warn him then they will have to explain why they felt they were in danger. Simply having a gun in your hand when police arrive doesn’t mean you’re threatening them with it. To use deadly force they would have had to feel like he threatened them with it. Did he turn toward them when they spoke? Did they warn him and he didn’t hear them because of the alarm (and possibly because he was 72 years old?)
There are simply too many variables here that have not been explained. Jerry was definitely at fault for going outside with a gun in his hand because his neighbor’s burglar alarm went off. Jerry was not a police officer nor did he have any authority to go hunting burglars at his neighbor’s home – regardless of how nice a guy he was or how badly he wanted to help his neighbor. It’s certainly a tragedy that he’s dead. But he most certainly contributed to it happening.
The Fort Worth Police Department have placed both officers on administrative leave and promise a full and transparent investigation into the incident. For the police officers involved it’s a tragedy as well. If they are exonerated of all wrong doing and maintain their positions, they will be forever changed by the incident. Will they be hesitant to fire their weapons in the future, possibly putting themselves or others at risk? Time will tell.
If they are found guilty of shooting Jerry without proper cause, their careers are over and they may possibly be criminally charged. Two young rookie officers’ futures are in the balance right now. Facts will either save them or ruin them. I don’t think they can be somewhere in the middle.
I feel badly for all concerned in this case. A 72 year old grandfather lost his life needlessly for trying to do something good. A woman lost her husband of 46 years and the father of her children. Two young police officers not only have to live with the fact that they killed an innocent man but could be facing the loss of their jobs or worse, prison time. Everyone involved has had their lives changed dramatically.
I hope the investigation can be completed and those involved can get some concrete answers. Nothing will change what happened nor will any answer be easy for all to accept. It’s a sad situation all the way around.