'I'm ready to begin healing,' says Texas officer shot 19 years ago after cold case solved

When Capt. Jeff Garner picked his shooter out of a line up last month, all the memories came flooding back


By Jessika Harkay
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — Over 19 years from the day he was shot by an unsuspected bank robber during a traffic stop, North Richland Hills Police Capt. Jeff Garner says he can finally heal.

It was March 3, 2003, when Garner, on a motorcycle, attempted to stop a red Jeep Wrangler. He had no idea that the vehicle, and its driver, were connected to an armed robbery in Watauga moments earlier where the man stole over $8,500. The armed robbery was the last of seven, between 1998 through 2003 in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, that the suspect, Mark Long, had organized, police said. Refusing to stop, Long not only tried to run Garner over, but fired five shots at him, striking him in the right ankle before fleeing the scene without a trace for nearly two decades.

The police department interviewed a few suspects and analyzed the evidence they had, but the case went cold, until a police detective became interested in it in 2013.

In 2015, North Richland Hills Police Detective Erik Whitlock officially was assigned to the case and in April 2022, after years of investigating DNA evidence, the case came to a close.

"One of Mark's bullets hit me, but the other four missed, and I have done my best to honor my survival day through serving the members of this department and our community to my fullest ability," Garner said at a news conference Friday. "I have come to understand, I've been carrying the weight of this event for 19 years and I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity to finally set it aside."

It was earlier this month that Garner was able to positively identify his shooter in a line-up. There was doubt that after so many years his memory would be reliable, but when the moment came, memories flooded back.

"There was a lot of goose bumps and quite honestly, it was one of the many emotional times that I've experienced in this case," Garner said. "I held on to hope [the case would be closed], but you can't hold on too tightly for that though. ... I've received all that I ever wanted. I never really thought today would be possible. That's just a gift that [Whitlock] gave me."

The investigation

When Whitlock was assigned the case in 2015, his biggest motivation was that he refused to let someone who committed a violent crime live a life free of consequences.

The beginning of Whitlock's investigation led to the conclusion that their suspect had robbed seven banks throughout three states, with two in Oklahoma City between 1998 and 1999, a third in Wichita, Kansas, in 1999, the fourth in Fort Worth in 2001, another in Arlington in 2002 and the sixth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just weeks before the final armed robbery in Watauga.

Whitlock said the suspect description linked all the robberies together, including three that found the same DNA at the scene.

"In the Arlington, Tulsa and Watauga bank robberies, the suspect had a cowboy hat, fake facial hair, an earpiece or communication device in his ear," Whitlock explained. "The strategy became to solve any one of those bank robberies and potentially have a suspect for our [ Watauga] bank robbery."

In 2016, Whitlock connected with the FBI unit in Oklahoma City to examine a bloody brown knitted glove that was found at the scene of the 1999 robbery. Law enforcement was able to create a basic genealogical profile, but it had no close matches, other than distant relatives who were too far out to build an accurate family-tree, Whitlock said.

It wasn't until December 2021 that an individual had uploaded their DNA into a database that was closer in resemblance to their suspect — which soon became a catalyst for the investigation to move forward. Days later, law enforcement was notified that Long was believed to be their main suspect, with his DNA profile associated with three of the bank robberies.

Further investigation linked Long to two vehicles used in the seven robberies. His physical characteristics were a match too and everything appeared to be lining up, but Whitlock didn't want to get his hopes up, knowing he'd been disappointed by what he thought were hits in the past and didn't pan out.

In mid-February, Whitlock and a pair of undercover agents made their way to Oklahoma and conducted surveillance on Long for multiple days. At one point, Long ate at a local restaurant and the detectives were able to seize his dining utensils afterward to test his DNA.

Again, it was a match.

On April 1, Whitlock and another detective were able to interview Long, to which he voluntarily agreed. Whitlock said that Long admitted to owning the two vehicles suspected to be used in the robberies, and when asked about his DNA left on an article of clothing at a scene, Long had told him it's possible he donated the clothing to a local thrift store and it still had his DNA when it was used in the robbery.

Whitlock described the shirt in question and asked Long if he ever owned one similar. He said no.

"[We said,] 'OK, well then, how's your DNA on a shirt that you never had and said that you've sold?'" Whitlock said he told Long. "At this point, I think he kind of realized he was fumbling. Then, [the other agent with Whitlock] asked [Long] about how his DNA was also found at two other bank robberies on items that would not be sold at thrift stores. One was a surgical mask and pantyhose in the '98 bank robbery, and the other was ... the brown glove. ... It was at that point he said that he believed he needed a lawyer."

Eventually Long refused to speak any longer and was able to leave. Search warrants were executed in both of the suspect vehicles and Long's home. At his residence, law enforcement found a revolver that matched the one used to shoot Garner.

"We found that in his bedroom under his bed in a case. It was loaded with .38 special rounds in the cylinder, the same caliber class used to shoot Officer Garner," Whitlock said. "It got a lot of us very excited that against all odds, 19 years later, he actually kept the weapon that he used in multiple bank robberies and to shoot Officer Garner."

After tracking down the red Jeep, since it was sold years prior, investigators found it had damage on its tailgate — which lined up perfectly to the suspect vehicle. Everything was a match.

On April 8, Whitlock filed for four arrest warrants in Tarrant County, including attempted capital murder of a peace officer, aggravated robbery for the Fort Worth offense and robbery for the Watauga and Arlington offenses. Two days later, they were granted and Whitlock was finally going to close his nine-year investigation.

A double life

Whitlock and a team of detectives made their way to Oklahoma on April 10. They were preparing to arrest Long the following morning at his job. That was, until he never showed up.

Officers later learned on the morning of the 10th, Long had jumped off a cell phone tower to his death.

"He took with him, you know, only things he will know, like the 'why's' essentially. Why did he do all of this?" Whitlock said.

Whitlock said that Long's family had no idea of his criminal background. Long had reportedly told his family that police were searching the home in the days prior because of someone else who lived in the residence before they moved in.

"The only person that knew about these offenses at the time was Mark Long. I don't believe he told his friends and his family, not his closest best friends, not his brothers, not his sister. They had nothing to do with this," Whitlock said.

Garner agreed, adding that the "Mark that shot me, was not the Mark that they knew."

"In many ways these recent events have made them victims of Mark's actions the same way it did the employees of seven different banks," Garner said. "I'm truly sorry for their loss, the loss of a brother, and I pray they find their own path to healing. I'm ready to begin mine."

This story was originally published April 15, 2022 2:21 PM.

(c)2022 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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