A small, metal plate adorns a tree outside Grandon Manor Apartments near W.S. Young Drive in Killeen.
Etched on its surface: “In loving memory officer Bobby Hornsby E.O.W. (end of watch) 7/14/2013.”
The marker is perhaps the only reminder of the tragic shootout at the complex last summer. Killeen police and a Fort Hood soldier exchanged a hail of gunfire, leaving two dead.
“Who knows why things like this happen?” Mary Curry said Thursday. “It’s unfortunate.”
Curry, who’s lived in the complex more than 20 years, is one of the few residents who witnessed the buildup to the fatal shootout, which began July 13 with an argument near the pool. It escalated into a standoff between the soldier, 24-year-old Dustin Billy Cole, and members of Killeen Police Department’s SWAT team outside Cole’s apartment early July 14.
Cole, armed with an AK-47, was killed after exchanging fire with police. Robert “Bobby” Hornsby, a 32-year-old father of two and a four-year Killeen Police Department veteran, was shot and killed. Another officer, 33-year-old Juan E. Obregon Jr., was hit in the leg.
It marked the first time a Killeen police officer was killed in the line of duty in more than 95 years.
In the wake of the shooting, the department said it conducted a thorough investigation. In February, a grand jury found officers were justified in shooting Cole.
But one year later, KPD and the city of Killeen are reluctant to release a detailed report of what happened.
Earlier this month, Killeen denied a Freedom of Information Act request from the Herald to view the full investigative report.
The denial included a ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which specifically allowed the department to withhold the bulk of the requested information. Under Texas open records law, police agencies can withhold records related to an investigation if it ends with no charges filed or deferred adjudication. Since the accused gunman was killed, no charges were filed in the case.
“As the facts and circumstances of the report have not changed and as the law has not changed since the letter ruling was issued, the city of Killeen will release nothing more than the basic information as required by law,” wrote Linda Pemberton, a paralegal for the city attorney’s office in a July 1 emailed response to the Herald.
In a subsequent email, Pemberton indicated it was police Chief Dennis Baldwin’s decision to not release the full investigation.
On Friday, Baldwin emailed a letter to the Herald explaining his decision.
“The Killeen Police Department strongly agrees with you that the public has a right to know what happened, which is why the department has released a great deal of information regarding the shooting,” Baldwin wrote. “The basic facts of the case have been released and reported through various media outlets. ... As you know, there is no legal requirement to release the shooting investigation. Nevertheless, I understand, appreciate, and respect your interest and position regarding the matter.”
Baldwin said he chose to not release the full report because:
- KPD does not have a practice of releasing cases in which there is no conviction.
- Maintaining consistency in both policy and practice is important in regard to open records requests.
- Making an exception in this case could create a “slippery slope” in future cases.
He also said privacy concerns for those involved and knowing family members and KPD officers are still coping with Hornsby’s death, as well as the May shooting death of Killeen Detective Charles Dinwiddie, also played into his decision to withhold the full report.
Baldwin said he also wants to help the department and community move forward from the tragedy.
Jim Hemphill, an Austin attorney who specializes in public records and open government cases, said most police agencies recognize basic information about a case should be made available. However, he said there could be several reasons why law enforcement agencies would be reluctant to release full investigative files for cases with no criminal charges.
“Sometimes there’s a concern that the reports contain law enforcement operational techniques, which law enforcement want to be confidential so they can remain effective,” Hemphill said. “There’s also a feeling that if an investigation doesn’t result in conviction or adjudication, that the suspect is entitled to some measure of privacy.”
Councilman Jonathan Okray said he has “confidence” in Baldwin’s handling of the investigation, but believes the city should be “as transparent as possible.”
“We cannot afford to hide anything and not be transparent with things that are publicly funded,” Okray said.
Mayor Scott Cosper said the department’s policy is to withhold investigations that don’t result in charges filed, and he agrees with Baldwin’s decision to follow procedure.
Councilmen Juan Rivera and Jose Segarra said if the investigation is complete, it should be released to the public.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone declined to comment. Councilmen Wayne Gilmore, Terry Clark and Steve Harris could not be reached for comment.
While it’s unclear what other details the full investigation may reveal, news releases from KPD, a one-page incident report released to the Herald and interviews of witnesses offer a rough timeline of events.
According to police, the incident began July 13 after Cole threatened several people near a pool in the apartment complex.
Curry said she remembers two couples were in the pool, and Cole approached a man with a tattoo on his back.
“I guess he didn’t like what was said because he made a comment about ‘Do you want to meet your maker?’ left, then came back with a rifle,” said Curry, who also said neighbors told her Cole had been drinking “all day.”
After the threat from Cole, police were called. About midnight July 14, the SWAT team arrived.
Curry said police came to her apartment and asked her family and other neighbors to move to a parking lot across the street.
“They politely asked us to leave because there could be the possibility of gunfire,” Curry said.
KPD officials later said Cole fired one shot at officers with a semi-automatic AK-47. He appeared ready to surrender, but opened fire again. Police said Hornsby and Obregon were hit, and Cole was killed during the ensuing gunfight. Hornsby died at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood after being transported there along with Obregon.
A day after the July 14 shooting, Grandon Manor resident Thomas Crain told the Herald he saw Cole fire an entire magazine of ammunition, hitting one officer in the collarbone and another in the leg.
Surge of support
The shooting sparked a surge of public grief and shock from a community still reeling from the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood.
In the weeks and months following Hornsby’s funeral, fundraisers, memorials and other events were held for the fallen officer. Kimberly Hornsby was present at most, if not all, of them, to honor her husband’s memory.
A plaque with his name was placed outside Killeen police headquarters in May.
Throughout the year, Hornsby has been vocal in her support of how the department handled the investigation into her husband’s death.
“Policy is not what got Bobby killed,” she said. “It was an individual’s poor choice.”
Monday marks one year since the shooting, and the Grandon Manor Apartments are again quiet. Cole’s apartment now is used for storage.
Many of the residents who lived in the complex last year were in the military and have since moved out. But Curry said she and her husband, who died in March, never considered leaving.
“Friends asked us if we’d move, but my husband said we were not in danger,” Curry said. “It’s a quiet place, and that’s what I love. I feel safe. It’s just one of those things you’d never think would happen and you hope never happens again.”
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.