HARKER HEIGHTS — Testimony and video from a fatal deputy-involved shooting of an unarmed Navy veteran in August reveals conflicting accounts of what led the deputy to fire his weapon, according to an investigation report released Wednesday.
Bell County Sheriff’s Cpl. Shane Geers shot and killed Lyle P. Blanchard, 59, of Harker Heights, after a failed traffic stop and pursuit Aug. 30 in the 12900 block of East Knights Way.
Geers was cleared of possible criminal charges by a Bell County grand jury Feb. 15, after the completion of the Texas Rangers investigation.
The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Rangers released the report and dashcam footage of the incident Wednesday — more than two months after the Herald originally asked for the evidence in a Texas Public Information Act request.
The investigation was conducted by Ranger Justin Duck and includes testimony from Geers, Duck and Ranger Jim Hatfield, the first Ranger to respond to the scene.
The testimonies show conflicting versions of what justification Geers used to fire his weapon, the timing of the shots and what words were exchanged between the deputy and Blanchard.
According to testimony transcribed in the report, Geers said Blanchard refused to respond to verbal commands after Blanchard stopped his vehicle and shouted obscenities at the deputy through his open driver’s-side window.
Geers left his emergency sirens on through the entirety of the incident, according to dashcam footage from Geers’ service vehicle. Despite this, Geers said his commands were clear, and he could hear what Blanchard yelled from approximately 40 yards away.
“(I) continued to loudly and clearly instruct him to show me his hands, as they were both not visible,” Geers said. “Instead of complying, the driver yelled other obscenities at me during my approach.”
Although Geers was wearing an on-body camera during the incident that is supposed to activate when the vehicle’s emergency lights are turned on, Geers said the camera did not activate and capture audio outside the vehicle.
According to the DPS, the dashcam audio could not be enhanced due to limitations in the department’s software. Because of this, it is unclear what Blanchard said to Geers in the footage.
While approaching Blanchard’s vehicle, Geers testified he could not see into the interior of Blanchard’s 2010 Honda Pilot and was unsure if other passengers were inside the vehicle.
Soon after stopping, Blanchard exited his vehicle and turned to face Geers. According to Geers, Blanchard stepped from his vehicle with his left arm behind his back in a way that threatened Geers and led him to fire his weapon eight times at Blanchard, striking him four times.
“I yelled as loud as I could to show me his hands and I saw his arm coming forward from his lower back waist as if he were bringing a gun out and up,” Geers said. “Although I did not clearly see his hand, I felt like he had to have a gun in it by the motion he made, and it appeared to me that he was pulling a gun on me.”
The dashcam footage shows Blanchard appearing to step from the vehicle with his left arm behind his back momentarily, then move both hands toward his front right cargo shorts pocket. While Blanchard reached inside that pocket, Geers fired his weapon.
In the first paragraph of the report, Duck says Geers fired his weapon due to the second motion — Blanchard reaching into his pocket — rather than having his hand behind his back.
Hatfield’s testimony also differs from Geers’ testimony, saying Geers at first approached Blanchard’s vehicle then retreated back to his own after Blanchard rolled his driver’s side window up. That version of events is not recounted in Geers’ testimony.
Hatfield, however, corroborates Geers’ testimony on his justification, saying Geers fired his first shot “as Blanchard’s hand began to come around his back.”
However, video footage shows at least a second between the time Blanchard’s hand becomes visible and when Geers fired his first shot.
After Blanchard fell to the ground, Geers approached Blanchard nearly three minutes later and checked his right waistband and right front pocket and then his left waistband for a weapon.
After the incident, Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange told media representatives gathered at the scene that Geers shot Blanchard during a “gunbattle” between the two.
Geers’ testimony to the Rangers was provided some time after the incident and does not mention an exchange of gunfire. Lange’s statement was not part of the report.
A Herald request for the department’s internal review of the incident, which could contain on-scene testimony from Geers with potential conflicting information, was sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office for a disclosure ruling Feb. 23.
A stipulation of the Texas Public Information Act allows law enforcement departments to withhold investigation reports that do not return a criminal conviction. The department has not said why it wants to withhold the information.
Rob Ranco, a lawyer representing the Blanchard estate in a federal civil suit against Geers, said Wednesday the footage and report show Geers and law enforcement involved in the case were dishonest in their retelling of the incident.
“Contrary to what is written in the report, (Blanchard) does not conceal his hand behind his back at any time,” Ranco said.