FORT WORTH, TX (CBSDFW.COM) — Undercover Fort Worth Police Officer Garrett Hull who was shot just after midnight Friday outside the Los Vaqueros bar in the 400 block of Biddison Street has died.
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald along with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and several members of the Fort Worth Police Department announced the news just after midnight Saturday morning — just about 24 hours after Hull was shot during a confrontation with a group of armed robbery suspects.
“I regret that I have to speak to you all this evening,” began Fitzgerald. “I am even more dismayed by the fact that I have to announce that at 21:40 hours Police Officer Garrett Hull passed away. We’ve lost a true hero; someone who has dedicated more than one tour of service to this great city and was senselessly killed by three known criminals — two of which are in custody now.”
According to police, officers had a group of suspects under surveillance early Friday morning at the bar when the suspects actually committed a robbery.
When the suspects ran out of the bar uniformed officers were waiting, and helped the undercover officers stop the robbers as they tried to get into an SUV. It was then that one of the suspects, later identified as Dacion Steptoe, opened fire.
“There’s not a dry eye in this house,” Fitzgerald continued. “Our whole department is hurting right now… a situation like this is something that’s going to galvanize this police department; galvanize the city.”
Fitzgerald said that Hull was an organ donor. “We will see him prolong the life of other folks that potentially could live a long and prosperous life because of the sacrifice that he made.”
“Tonight we’re heartbroken that our Officer Garrett Hull lost his life this evening; End Of Watch, September the 14th,” began Mayor Price. “Our prayers are focused with his family, his wife and his two daughters who were at his side.”
“The sacrifices that our officers make go unnoticed unfortunately until we have a tragedy such as this,” Price continued. “And the shock and the grief with terrible tragedies wake people up to the fact that many of our men and women serve and don’t go home.”
Price said Hull was a hero, a brilliant officer, a great husband and father. “I’ve enjoyed — today — hearing those that worked with him talk about him as the rock — talk about him as the glue — that held his unit together.”
“I would encourage those of you out there to not take for granted — to stop today — whether you are going to your child’s soccer, to the grocery store, wherever you might be going to work today,” Price continued. “Stop and think about our first responders, our police officers.”
“The news of Officer Hull’s death is the worst case scenario for men and women in blue,” said Price. “Please take the time to continue to pray for this family and for these officers who stand with us. They will feel it and we will be a stronger city for your thoughts and your prayers.”
Earlier Friday Chief Fitzgerald discussed the details of the robbery. “Officers including Garrett did a fantastic job of discerning who the people were that were targets — and by targets I mean who were the actual offenders – and who were the citizens. In the midst of all that, exchanged gunfire.”
Officer Hull was shot in the head and other officers returned fire, shooting and killing Steptoe — the alleged gunman.
“When officers are tailing somebody or surveilling someone that are wanted for robberies like these that the ultimate concern is that, if they are seen going into a bar, the obvious bells and whistles that go off are ‘we don’t want them to hurt anybody inside of an establishment’ but we also don’t want to create a situation where we have hostages,” said Chief Fitzgerald. “In this case our officers, in my opinion, made the best decision possible in allowing them to come out and that’s when they approached them, and that’s when the gunfire erupted.”
Immediately after the shots were fired officers at the scene sprung into action to help Officer Hull. “In the midst of it… the officers involved in the active scene actually extricated the officer who was struck in the head and got him here to JPS Hospital,” explained Chief Fitzgerald.
Those officers rushed Hull to the hospital in a squad car. As of noontime Friday the Chief said Hull’s condition was not much changed and that his family was at his side.
Victor Zepeda, the owner of Los Vaqueros, said he went to work last night with his guard up. “We just knew that they [suspects] had been robbing the bars out here in the area,” he said.
According to Zepeda, there were more than a dozen people hanging out at the bar when two men burst in wearing masks. “We were here and they just bum rushed the bar, told us to hit the floor and had the guns out.”
Customers inside at the time said the suspects demanded wallets and cell phones from everyone and nobody refused.
The suspects are believed to be responsible for a number of robberies across the metroplex – primarily at Latino bars. Robberies that before this morning had left three other people shot.
A video was posted on the Fort Worth Police Facebook page back in July that showed suspects robbing a bar on Hemphill Street. “In the last month, four bars have been robbed by the same group of suspects; the bars cater to Hispanic customers: (this location on video is 4000 Hemphill St. on June 24),” officials posted on Facebook.
“It’s not a fair tradeoff. It’s not a fair tradeoff at all. We have an officer fighting for his life right now for some guys that thought it was easy to go out and rob stores here in the city of Fort Worth and the North Texas region,” said Chief Fitzgerald earlier Friday. “I thank all the law enforcement out here and the great response we’re getting tell them that this isn’t what happens here. We’re not gonna allow that kind of behavior.”
Officer Hull had 17 years of service with the Fort Worth Police Department and was in law enforcement for 19 years. His fellow officers described him as a man of strong character who is well loved.
“We get a lot of support from the citizens of Fort Worth,” Sgt. Chris Britt said. “We want those citizens to pray for us, think about us, because we’ve got an officer right now that’s going to need it. We’ve got family of an officer that’s going to need it, and we’ve got a department that’s hurting quite a bit.”
Hundreds of police officers, from across the region, made their way to JPS Hospital Friday to support the Hull family and members of the Fort Worth Police Department.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said, “As we all slept and as we go about our morning of getting up and going to work you have to remember that these young men and women, who are fighting for us, are going out so that we can go to work and sleep safely and sleep sound. They indeed are our heroes.”
So far police haven’t said what charges the suspects in custody are facing, but they believe there are other bars that were victims of the robbers and didn’t report it.