U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- On March 5, 2019, Officer Nathan Heidelberg and another officer responded to an alarm call at about 1:16 a.m. The officers checked the backyard of the residence. They did not find a problem. The residence is a large single-family home with outbuildings. Then the officers checked the front door. They found it was unlocked. An alarm went off. The officers backed off.
Then Officer Heidelberg announced himself and attempted to enter the residence. The homeowner, David Charles Wilson, now alerted, fired a shot in the direction of the front door. The shot struck Officer Heidelberg. He was pronounced dead about an hour later. From newswest9.com:
The homeowner, David Charles Wilson, was inside the residence at this time and admitted to firing his handgun in the direction of Officer Heidelberg.
On May 2, 2019, a grand jury indicted David Wilson for the death of Officer Heidelberg. Here is the statement of Wilson’s attorney, from ketk.com:
Wilson’s attorney later said Wilson was defending his home and mistook Heidelberg for an intruder.
In September of 2019, Wilson’s attorney filed a motion to quash the manslaughter indictment stating that the alarm system in Wilson’s home had malfunctioned and mistakenly alerted the police. According to that motion, Wilson was not aware that his alarm company had called the police and the malfunctioning alarm happened in the pool house, which is on a separate alarm system from the main house.
That motion went on to state that Heidelberg and another officer first checked the backyard, but the gate was locked. The officers then went to the front of the house where they tried the front door and found it to be unlocked. Once the officers opened the front door, a door alarm chimed, and, according to the brief, the chime woke Wilson’s wife, who then woke him and said she thought someone was in the house.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wilson can hear and see silhouettes outside with flashlights,” the brief said. “But they have no idea who is outside, what they are saying, or what they are doing. There were no red and blue police lights.”
Wilson’s attorney said the front door was opened by the officers twice, and that Wilson fired when the door was opened the second time.
Officer Victoria Allee was there and had a body camera on. From newswest9.com:
Allee was also questioned by the prosecution and the defense. The witness testified that the two of them had initially checked the back door and found it locked before she suggested they check the front door.
According to Allee, she touched the handle of the front door and it opened, causing a voice alert about the door being opened to go off.
Heidelberg closed the door and the two called for backup, while Allee said she noticed someone inside the house.
Officer Heidelberg then announced himself, saying “Midland Police, come to the sound of my voice”. Moments later a shot is fired, hitting him in the chest.
This appears to be a case of considerable randomness in the Universe, all combining to create a tragedy. A malfunctioning alarm system an hour and a half after midnight, a door left unlocked, an officer who announced, but not loud enough to be clearly heard or understood, and a husband who thought he was protecting his home. The case went to trial in 2021.
The jury was not out for very long. From foxnews.com:
After about 90 minutes of deliberation, a jury agreed with defendant David Wilson’s claim of self-defense, believing Officer Nathan Heidelberg was a home intruder in the early hours of March 5, 2019, KOSA-TV of Odessa, Texas reported.
The world is not perfect. Bad things can happen to good people.
The jury appears to have understood that compounding more punishment on the Wilson family will not bring back Officer Heidelberg.
In the United States, officers must assume the owners/residents of a home are armed and willing to defend their domicile. Entering domiciles without clear announcement and legal notice to the owners/residents is an invitation for them to open fire. Tragic occurrences such as what happened to Officer Heidelberg, are bound to happen, especially in the wee hours of the morning, when people are wakened from sleep, and most suspicious of home intruders.
The ability to defend your home is part of the core of the Second Amendment. Defense of self, home, community, and nation are all reasons included in the purposes of the Second Amendment.
One reason, the ability to form well-regulated militias, is mentioned in the present participle of the sentence. It does not restrict the right of the people to keep and bear arms, it merely mentions one use of the right.
Just because a person is a law enforcement/peace officer does not grant them immunity from mistakes or from bullets.
This case did not involve any violation of Constitutional rights, prior to the shooting.
It does not appear anything anyone did, in this case, was illegal or evil. Mistakes were made on both sides, understandable mistakes.
What happened seems to have been reasonably clear to the jury.
It appears the universe conspired against Officer Nathan Heidelberg. He and other officers’ mistakes contributed to the horrible events. He did not deserve to be killed. His death was tragic.
What happened to the Wilson family is clear. They were punished by the prosecutor and the process.
It seems David Wilson was charged and brought to trial because Officer Heidelberg was a police officer. It seems unlikely if the people at the door had been someone else, perhaps neighbors, or relatives, that David Wilson would have been charged.
David Wilson and his family did not deserve to have to spend tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars for his defense, and go through the deep legal uncertainty of prosecution and trial for two years.
There is a lesson for other officers. Officers must clearly announce themselves to people in a residence before attempting entry. It is the correct thing to do.
There is a lesson for home defenders as well.
Do not shoot wildly at someone in a doorway, when you do not know what is going on.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.