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A Week After A Midland Officer Is Shot And Killed, Questions Remain

Officer Nathan "Hayden" Heidelberg, in a flag draped casket, is placed into a hearse. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

By Mitch Borden

It’s been a week since Midland Police Officer Nathan Heidelberg died in the line of duty while answering a call at a local residence.

Previous police accounts of the incident stated, Heidelberg identified himself before beginning to enter the house. The homeowner, according to their arrest affidavit, mistook him for an intruder. Since then, the homeowner, an oil executive, was arrested and posted bail shortly after. Meanwhile, the Midland community continues to mourn. There’s been little information released so far, but there are some big details that haven't been released yet that could determine how this case unfolds.

After hymns and testimonials, the funeral for Midland Police officer Nathan Heidelberg came to its most emotional moment. The end of watch call, the final time an officer is radioed after dying in the line of duty, which was played for mourners. 

“Attention Midland Police Department. There is no answer from unit 33 - 48. Officer Heidelberg, you have served your last call.”

At the funeral, Heidelberg was awarded the highest honor a Midland Police Officer can be given, the medal of valor. He had worked at the Midland Police Department for five years and was currently serving as a field training officer, also known as an FTO. Midland’s police chief Seth Herman spoke during the service and revealed new details concerning Heidelberg’s last moments.

The 28-year-old officer was patrolling with a new police recruit on the morning of March 5th. The two were the firsts to respond to a house where a panic alarm was set off. To the officers, nothing seemed out of the ordinary until one of them noticed the front door was “unsecured."  Then, through the door’s windows, chief Herman explained, something appeared.

“An unknown subject dart(ed) from one side to the other of the hallway leading from the entryway into the residence living area.”

The homeowner, David Charles Wilson, was inside, armed, and believed his home was being broken into. Heidelberg, on the other hand, worried the figure inside was an intruder. So without identifying himself first, he opened the door. 

Chief Herman described the scene, “Fearing for the safety of occupants as well as his fellow officers, FTO Heidelberg pushed the already ajar door open." He continued, "In a strong commanding voice announced his presence. His flashlight illuminating the hallway.”

Then a shot rang out.

Chief Herman said, “In the midst providing the second announcement, a single shot was fired from the dwelling's interior. Striking FTO Heidelberg just outside of his protective vest.”

By this time more police officers had arrived on the scene. They treated and transported Heidelberg to Midland Memorial Hospital, but he would die soon after arriving. Wilson, who’s the founder of the Midland company Unitex Oil and Gas, admitted to firing a handgun in the direction of the young officer. He was arrested and charged with 2nd-degree manslaughter. He posted bail shortly after.

Other than these details, no other information has been revealed by law enforcement officials, but the next details to emerge could be key in determining how this situation is handled. Rick Wardroup is with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

He said, “The whole case is going to come down to the timing of when the entry was made when the announcement was made, and when the shot was fired.”

According to Wardroup, the circumstances surrounding the shooting will be important when determining if Wilson shooting Heidelberg was what the law considers “reasonable." That is, was Wilson, as a homeowner, justified in his actions

Wadroup doesn't think it's a stretch that Wilson was worried about his safety. He said, “I can imagine being in my home and having two people roam around the perimeter of my yard and then they break in. That’s probably why I armed myself.”

Wardroup pointed out, Wilson had the right to protect his house and that Heidelberg not identifying himself before opening the door into the home could play a big role in this case.

He said, pushing open the door, “That’s the entry into someone’s home and you have the right to protect your property in particular if your personal safety is involved.”

Another thing that could be a big factor: exactly how long was it between Heidelberg identifying himself and when he was shot by Wilson? There's still a lot the public doesn't know though, so questions like this one will have to wait until more information surrounding Heidelberg’s death is released.  

Bagpipes rang into the still air on the day of Heidelberg's funeral. Hundreds of police officers from across Texas and the country came to pay their last respects. Including, Midland’s deputy chief Greg McCright. He says right now he’s not sure what lessons MPD will take away from this tragedy, but for Midland residents who own a firearm, he had these words.

“Be Careful, you know, be careful. Midland is a safe city, for the most part. We want to protect our citizens and of course, you want to protect your home, but we need to be careful in everything we do.”

The Texas Rangers are currently investigating the events leading to Heidelberg’s death. If convicted, the homeowner, David Wilson, could face two to 20 years in prison. Officer Heidelberg, known as Hayden to friends and family, is survived by mother, father, and three sisters. He was 28 when he died.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.