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Richard Shoemaker was a cantankerous employee but a model pilot. He may have made Southwest Airlines safer to fly. So why was he fired?
By Carlton Stowers |
Illustration by Gable Mansfield

The full wrath of the south Texas summer was still to come on the morning of June 19. 1985, as Southwest Airlines Captain Richard Shoemaker settled into the left seat in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 he was to pilot from Harlingen to Houston. It was just after 9 a.m. and the near cloudless sky promised another 100-degreeday. With that in mind, the passengers of Flight 34, mostly businessmen, were looking forward to the short flight to the north where the weather, they had been informed, was cloudy with a chance of fog and rain.

Captain Shoemaker, thirty-eight, a veteran pilot with more than 11,000 hours of flight time to his credit, had already pushed away from the ramp when he engaged the plane’s hydraulic system and began the standard instrument check required before takeoff. When he instructed copilot Steve Swearengin to position the flaps, however, he immediately saw a problem. Amber forward and overhead lights indicated the leading edge flaps were in transit, not yet fully in place. Looking out of the cockpit. Shoemaker could see that the flap on the left wing was not yet locked. After increasing the power several times in an attempt to resolve the problem, he took the option granted the pilot in charge of any Southwest Airlines flight: he taxied the plane back to the gate and requested that the ground crew board the plane to check the malfunction.

Shoemaker’s decision would set off a bizarre sequence of events that would ultimately see the pilot dismissed from Southwest Airlines, stripped of his medical clearance, and denied the chance to fly for anyone else. It would also set off a series of legal skirmishes that culminated in a multimillion-dollar suit against Southwest Airlines. The case comes to trial this month. Meanwhile, Shoemaker’s life has become a tangle of depression and violence (see “A Pilot’s Flight.. .,” page 45).

Back at the Harlingen gate, Shoemaker called the dispatcher in Dallas to report the problem and the delay. Since Southwest had no company-operated maintenance crews stationed in Harlingen, a contract maintenance crew was requested. Upon arrival, the crew chief assessed the trouble and said he wasn’t surprised; the malfunction that concerned Shoemaker, he said, had been a recurring problem on that particular 737.

Though Federal Aviation Administration guidelines say a plane can be safely flown with the problem Shoemaker was experiencing (so long as a visual check of the flaps can be made by the pilot), he opted to remain on the ground until repairs were made. The leading edge flaps, which increase the lift of the wings at slower speeds without stalling the engines, are vital for landings. Shoemaker feared that the rain showers and fog reported in Houston might make a visual check of the flaps during landing impossible. Worse, he might not be able to get the flaps locked into proper position without a correct reading from the panel.

Shoemaker’s delay caused a flurry of activity in the Dallas headquarters of Southwest Airlines, which has built its reputation on punctual takeoffs and quick turnarounds. Soon Tony Randall, manager of flight training, was on the phone to get Shoemaker’s explanation of the problem. Like the maintenance men who had checked the malfunction, Randall told the pilot that the problem with the panel lights had happened before and reminded Shoemaker of the FAA regulations. Shoemaker again said he would fly the plane only if the problem was corrected. “You’re screwing up the schedule,” Randall told him, but Shoemaker held firm. Ultimately the passengers deplaned and the 737 was towed from the gate to make way for an incoming flight. Shoemaker was told that Jim Amos, vice-president of flight operations in Dallas, was on the phone. Copilot Swearengin lifted an eyebrow as he glanced over at his captain. “Uh-oh, here comes the pressure call,” he said. Following a heated discussion, during which the pilot stuck to his decision. Amos instructed Shoemaker to fly the plane back to Dallas on a mechanical deferred status. Flight 34 to Houston was then officially canceled. Shortly after noon the 737 was en route to Dallas with only the flight crew on board.

For those who worked alongside Richard Shoemaker, there was little in-between: they either liked him or loathed him.

During the eight years he had served as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, Richard Shoemaker had perplexed many of his co-workers. A quiet man by nature, his no-nonsense demeanor in the cockpit caused some to view him as aloof. Others who knew him better felt that perhaps the sudden death of his wife several years earlier caused his occasional moodiness; some tried to avoid him at times. Others found him a man with an engaging sense of humor, a pleasant dinner companion during layovers. New first officers would hear he was “difficult” to work with, but some came away impressed. Some, in fact, say he was one of the few captains who involved the entire crew-copilot and flight engineer-during flights.

Southwest pilot Sumner Wyall was not among that group. Wyall recalls an incident that occurred prior to a 1983 flight from Dallas to Midland on which he was to serve as copilot. Captain Shoemaker, whom he had never met, would not shake his hand when he introduced himself. After reading the takeoff data sheet, Wyall had placed it in front of the radar screen. He says that before takeoff. Shoemaker reached over, grabbed the data sheet, and threw it at him, hitting him just below the left eye. The flight was completed with only checklist conversation between the two pilots. Others insist he often made “crude” remarks in the company of female flight attendants. For those who worked alongside Richard Shoemaker, there was little in-between: they either liked him or loathed him.

According to officials in Southwest management, concern had steadily grown over Shoemaker’s “rebellious” attitude. None, however, were critical of his professional skills. With several letters of commendation from company president Herb Kelleher included in his file, Shoemaker was recognized by most of his peers as a by-the-book, safety-conscious pilot. Some of his supervisors, however, saw him as a malcontent, a constant source of irritation. The Harlingen delay was not the first for a Shoemaker-piloted plane. There was the lime in Midland when his fuel gauge was not functioning properly; he insisted that the ground crew top the tanks off and measure them by dipstick since he had no official record of the amount of fuel in the tanks. While the flight was delayed, the disgruntled ground crew put an additional eighteen gallons into the plane, bringing the fuel level to its 21,000-gallon capacity.

A self-described perfectionist, Shoemaker had, on occasion, been outspoken about company policy. Just a month earlier he had requested a meeting with Amos to voice concern over what he considered a serious morale problem among the pilots. On more than one occasion he had cost Southwest Airlines considerable amounts of money by diverting scheduled flights because of bad weather. The refusal to keep the Harlingen-to-Houston schedule was, some of his associates say, the final straw.

As Shoemaker taxied the plane to the gate at Love Field, he could see Captain Amos and flight managers Doug Rice and Steve Smith waiting. As the crew stepped from the plane. Amos nodded at Shoemaker and said, “Come with me.”

They went directly to a pilots’ lounge located below Gate 5. Once inside, Amos demanded that Shoemaker open his flight bag. By now Shoemaker was suspicious. Procedures, as he understood them, allowed for inspection of a pilot’s flight book and manuals but did not include searching his bag.

Gary Barron, executive vice-president of corporate services and a lawyer for Southwest, says that Jim Amos had consulted him about the legality of the search. “I asked if we [Southwest Airlines] owned any property in the bag and if we had ever made flight bag searches with other employees before. The answer to both questions was yes. At that point I said there was no problem with the request.”

Yet Shoemaker still refused, and the confrontation quickly came to a head. As Shoemaker recalls the scene, Amos said: “I’m sick and tired of you. You’ve been a pain in the ass to Southwest Airlines since you came here.” And he added that he doubted Shoemaker’s mental capacity to operate as a captain. (Calls to Amos’s office requesting his recollections of the comments were not returned.)

As Shoemaker sat on the couch, puzzled. Amos informed him that he was being investigated “for a crime.”

Concerned that there was no witness in the room other than the two members of Amos’s flight operations staff. Shoemaker requested that he be allowed to call someone from the pilots’ union before the conversation went further. Amos told him that he would be accompanied to the phone and that he would have to leave his flight bag in the lounge. Rice volunteered to place the call for him but was back shortly, saying there had been no answer at the union office.

After two Dallas Security Force officers arrived and positioned themselves in front of the door. Amos told them he had reason to believe that Shoemaker was concealing a handgun in his bag. Amos then turned to the bewildered pilot: “Now are you going to open it?”

“For some time,” says attorney Ron Ricks, vice-president of government affairs for Southwest, “there had been rumors that Dick Shoemaker may have been carrying a weapon. It was the position of management that those rumors could no longer be discounted.”

Shoemaker, who says he has never carried a gun aboard a Southwest plane, was unaware of any such rumors. Ricks did not explain why Shoemaker, if he was rumored to be carrying a gun, had never been confronted before the afternoon he canceled Flight 34.

Finally, the pilot succumbed to the search. Nothing was found, and Amos told the officers they could leave. “I guess our information was incorrect,” he said. Amos then asked Shoemaker for his identification card and informed him he would be on suspension for the duration of the investigation. Had the pilot known what had transpired during the hour and fifteen minutes it had taken him to fly from Harlingen to Love Field, he might have braced himself for the worst.

Jim Amos would later admit that he had begun building a case directed at firing Shoemaker even before the confrontation in the pilots’ lounge. Amos was aware of complaints from a restaurant manager in San Francisco months earlier about a confrontation between Shoemaker and a waiter who had refused to serve him wine with his meal. reportedly because the pilot was still in uniform. Then there had been a disagreement with a waitress in the Harlingen airport restaurant over a breakfast order.

Amos asked members of his staff if details on the incidents were available. Above all, he wanted more information on a problem Shoemaker reportedly had with authorities in Laramie, Wyoming. Following a breakup with his fiancee eighteen months earlier, Shoemaker had gone to Laramie to persuade her to return to Dallas. The woman’s parents, with whom she was living at the time, had refused to allow Shoemaker to see her. Angry words were exchanged and they asked the local police to see that Shoemaker did not bother their daughter. During a routine investigation of the complaint, the authorities had called Southwest Airlines to verify Shoemaker’s employment.

Finally, there was the story gathered from Randy Rickard, operations manager of the Harlingen airport, who had said that a Southwest Airlines operations agent named Lester Sitton had told him of being in the cockpit when Captain Shoemaker had pulled “what looked like” a small pistol from his boot. The incident, which had reportedly taken place at least two years earlier, now loomed large in Amos’s mind.

Meanwhile, Shoemaker had wasted little time in contacting officials from the Southwest Airlines Pilot’s Association about his suspension. Though the union would ultimately agree to represent him in a grievance against Southwest, Shoemaker thought he sensed a casual attitude toward his situation that troubled him. Against the advice of the union. Shoemaker retained a lawyer, Tom Boardman, who agreed to look into the matter but suggested to Shoemaker that he first see whether his problems could be resolved by the union representative. The pilot agreed, still optimistic the matter would be resolved once he had an opportunity to tell his side of the story.

On July 30, 1985, Shoemaker’s thirty-ninth birthday, the hearing was conducted. Following standard procedure, a panel of four men was selected from a list of names Shoemaker had approved. The panel had binding authority to rule on the grievance against Shoemaker.
When Shoemaker opened the folder containing the charges against him, he was stunned. He claims that he had never seen “75 percent” of the items in the folder. The file included letters written about the restaurant incident in San Francisco, the problem in Laramie, the story about the gun. All were dated after his suspension. One incident (a charge that Shoemaker had used excessive power in taxiing from the gate) had allegedly taken place five years earlier.

Gerald Bradley, former president of the Pilot’s Association, admits that the union was aware of all the charges to be brought against Shoemaker. He says that union officials simply didn’t think it was necessary to share all the information with the man they were representing.

“The thing that really puzzled me,” Shoemaker says, “was that at no time during my career with Southwest had I ever been questioned about any of those things.” Barron, on the other hand, says company records indicate “that there were a number of incidents where Dick had counseling about his behavior,” but would give no specific examples.

When the hearing was completed, the review board voted 4-0 to dismiss Richard Shoemaker from his $100,000-a-year job as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. The following day, he met with his attorney to discuss filing a civil suit against Southwest Airlines, the city of Dallas (which was liable for the actions of the security officers involved in the search of his bag) and the pilots’ union.

Shoemaker’s attorney, Tom Boardman, believes that Shoemaker was used as a negotiating pawn by the union, which at the time of the Shoemaker incident was in the process of hammering out a new contract with the airline. As he sees it, the union decided that Shoemaker was expendable; they would let him be jettisoned in return for concessions from Southwest management. “They got what they wanted.” Shoemaker says of the union, “and the company got what it wanted: I was fired.”

Southwest attorney Ricks insists there is no evidence that any form of “trade-off deal” was struck between Southwest Airlines and the union. “Mr. Shoemaker, through his attorneys, has taken depositions from union reps on that negotiation and they said that in no way, shape, or form did Shoemaker’s name, case, or anything to do with him come up during deliberations or negotiations.”

Gerald Bradley, the president of the pilots’ union at the time of Shoemaker’s dismissal, cautiously grants that the circumstances surrounding the Shoemaker hearing could well have influenced the final collective bargaining agreement. “In matters of that nature,” he says, “you end up with contractual provisions based on the sum total of the bargaining groups’ experience. It is possible that, in generalities, there are things in the bargaining agreement that were related to Dick Shoemaker’s case, specifically put there because of Dick.”

In January of 1986, Southwest Airlines and the Pilot’s Association did, in fact, agree to a new contract. Among the new provisions written into the agreement were several items that would provide pilots protection against what had happened to Shoemaker. For example, pilots would immediately be made aware of any critical reports placed in their files.

In the meantime, Shoemaker filed suit in Dallas County district court. Attorney Barran would make only a brief statement to the media about the suit: “Richard Shoemaker,” he told the Dallas Times Herald, “is a disgruntled employee who was fired for unprofessional conduct.”

The case of Richard Shoemaker vs. Southwest Airlines, whether or not it is found to have merit in court this month, is but a local example of a national problem that some say has steadily worsened since the industry was deregulated in the late Seventies. Following the mass PATCO firings in 1981, concern over the inexperience of the new controllers led to a growing uneasiness about flying. In addition, criticism leveled against Congress and the FAA for creating an environment that puts cost controls and timeliness ahead of safety has mounted, culminating in the publication in 1986 of Blind Trust, a sweeping indictment of the airline industry written by former pilot John J. Nance. Nance argues that “significant deterioration in the margin of safety has dramatically increased the potential for fatal airline accidents,” and says that the 1978 Deregulation Act has resulted in “a decline in the margin of airline safety as airlines increasingly drop their standards to the legal minimums in order to save money and stay competitive.” He has attracted a growing following that continues to apply pressure on the FAA and work to educate the public about the hazards of commercial flying.

“They got what they wanted.” Shoemaker says of the union, “and the company got what it wanted: I was fired.”

More recently, the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington filed an eight-page recommendation with the FAA expressing concern over safety regulations. “In 1985,” says Alan Pollock, a spokesman for the NTSB, “there were 240 near mid-air collisions. That figure rose to 340 in 1986, with fifty-seven of those being classified by the FAA as ’critical.’ Already in 1987 the number of near mid-air collisions is 13 percent ahead of last year’s figures. And it is estimated that the number will double that of 1985 before the year is out.”

At a May hearing involving the NTSB and the FAA, NTSB chairman Jim Burnett said he felt the FAA was “trying to run the system to the red line” by allowing the scheduling of too many flights at prime times, particularly during the “peak” summer months. “We don’t need to play a game of chicken with safety.” Burnett said.

It is one of those public debates that pits big business against the little guy, with vociferous claims on both sides and truth muddled somewhere in the middle. But ironically, current governmental scrutiny is centered on airline service-not safety. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole recently warned major carriers either to improve their on-time records and solve scheduling problems or face the consequences of federal intervention. Complaints by the likes of Shoemaker aside, getting the planes there on time is the order of the day.

“Being on time,” says Southwest President Herb Kelleher, “is precisely what they’re talking about in Washington right now. That’s what the Senate and the House are condemning the airlines for-not being on time. So, yes, we’re telling our people-pilots, flight attendants, ticket personnel, baggage handlers, operations people-that on-time performance is one of the most important things to the public. I’ve never heard that being on time was considered a flaw in an airline’s operations.”

Kelleher says that Southwest Airlines can claim two and one-half million safe takeoffs and landings since it went into operation. He says that the FAA has often praised South-west’s safety record. “If you look at the safety of the overall industry since deregulation, the facts show that the industry has improved. Those people who say that safety has deteriorated as a consequence of deregulation are full of shit.”

But the battle goes on nationally and here in Dallas. Richard Shoemaker was not content to confine his campaign to the logging of a lawsuit in civil court. Shoemaker filed a lengthy complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration-and eventually won a victory, if a Pyrrhic one. Shoemaker charged Southwest with pressuring its pilots to cut corners, using safety procedures that did not meet minimum federal standards. In the end, Southwest was fined $402,000 by the FAA.

Southwest attorney Ricks states that the FAA investigated Shoemaker’s charges against Southwest and found in favor of the airline. Citing a letter to Shoemaker written in February 1986 by Harold E. LaRoux, manager of the FAA’s Air Carrier District Office at D/FW airport, Ricks claims the district FAA found “no substance” for any of Shoemaker’s allegations, “except for one, possibly, which involved improper documentation of some outside maintenance work done in Harlingen.”

Ricks’s rendition of the district FAA’s response is accurate. But the story doesn’t end there. Terming the FAA reply a “whitewash,” Shoemaker took his complaint to the top. On April 22, 1986, he submitted his list of complaints to Secretary of Transportation Dole and Admiral Donald Engen, national administrator of the FAA. He did so on the advice of retired FAA consultant Frank Cobb who, at attorney Boardman’s request, reviewed the report submitted by the regional FAA office. Cobb advised Shoemaker and Boardman that the issues raised by the displaced pilot had not. in his opinion, been sufficiently addressed.

Just six days after Shoemaker’s letter to Dole and Engen, a twelve-member FAA Special Inspection Team assembled in Dallas. Ultimately, they found Southwest Airlines in violation of most of the regulations of which Shoemaker complained, and slapped them with a $402,000 fine.

Of the ten issues raised in Shoemaker’s complaint, eight were addressed in the Special Inspection Report the FAA handed over to Southwest on May 30, 1986. To wit: Shoemaker had stated that the airline passed mechanical “discrepancies” (i.e., problems) along from one flight crew to the next, and that the discrepancies were not properly logged as required by the rules. In its report, the FAA expressed concern over the entering of “mechanical irregularities” in flight log books at the next place of landing. Inspectors found that one aircraft made fifteen takeoffs with at least six crews before a particular problem was investigated or repaired.

They also held to be accurate Shoemaker’s statement that there was no documentation that showed contract maintenance personnel in Harlingen had been trained to work on 737s. Inspectors also substantiated Shoemaker’s claim that crew members had flown in excess of the allowable 100 hours in a calendar month. Additionally, the report addressed concern over pressures being applied to pilots of Southwest to maintain on-time schedules. In summary, according to Boardman, “LaRoux’s report was totally discredited by the national FAA inspectors.”

Southwest’s Kelleher acknowledges that Southwest was forced by the FAA to pay a $400.000-plus fine, but he insists that the penalties levied by the FAA were for nothing more than “paperwork” problems with little bearing on flight safety. But the fact remains that the FAA report filed by the twelve-man inspection team did criticize the airline’s emphasis on quick turnarounds and avoiding delays whenever possible. “In most cases it appears that the only reason for the carry-over of discrepancies is the lack of time to correct them,” the inspectors wrote. “This system makes it difficult to determine if the company is operating to the highest degree of safety.”

Thus, two years of legal maneuvering have followed that afternoon at Love Field when Richard Shoemaker was placed on suspension. After hundreds of pages of depositions, endless motion-filing, and legal sparring, the case will finally be heard in the federal courtroom of District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer this month. It is sure to attract national attention.

As for Shoemaker, he remains convinced that his final act of disobedience cost him his job. The embittered former pilot is sustained, he says, by the hope that the truth will finally emerge in court. Says attorney Boardman, who has spent more than 1.500 hours preparing his client’s case; “If Richard Shoemaker doesn’t get a dime out of all this, he’s already won a victory that no amount of money can buy. He’s made Southwest Airlines safe to fly. He’s saved some lives.”

Southwest’s Ricks disagrees. “I think Shoemaker likes to take credit for a lot of things he’s had nothing to do with.”


After his dismissal by Southwest Airlines, events in pilot Richard Shoemaker’s life went from strange to bizarre. He sank into a swamp of depression over the loss of his career. By the spring of 1986 he had, by his own admission, become a virtual recluse. He rarely spoke with family or friends, and when he did. he was obsessed with the civil lawsuit he had Tiled against his former employers. “Every time I saw him,” says a neighbor, “he wanted to give me a blow-by-blow account of what was going on with the suit. It had consumed him.”

When Shoemaker’s teenage daughters came home from school he would retreat to his bedroom, hoping to hide the overwhelming anxiety he could not shake. At night, sleep came in brief snatches, filled with nightmares which would bathe him in sweat. By summer’s end, a psychologist he was seeing on the advice of his attorney had prescribed an antidepressant drug. According to tests given by another psychologist, Dr. George Mount. Shoemaker had begun to demonstrate suicidal tendencies.

“Every time I saw him,” says a neighbor, “he wanted to give me a blow-by-blow account of what was going on with the suit. It had consumed him.”

Then, on the afternoon of July 19. 1986, Shoemaker was notified that U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer had reset the trial date for June 1987. Unemployed and pressured by creditors, Shoemaker now faced another year of waiting.

Enraged, he tried to call his attorney, Tom Boardman. The line was busy, so he dialed Dr. Mount’s number. As soon as the soft-spoken psychologist answered, Shoemaker’s hostile words came spilling out. his voice rising to a shout, then dropping to a whisper. His lawyer had let him down, he said. Goddammit, everyone had let him down.

As Dr. Mount tried to calm Shoemaker, he heard two rapid shots. Then the phone went dead. The psychologist feared the worst.

For the next half hour, Dr. Mount says, he tried to get in touch with the police department serving the area where Shoemaker lived. After trying the Roanoke and South-lake police, he learned that Shoemaker’s address was within the jurisdiction of the Keller Mice Department. Within minutes of Dr. Mount’s call. Keller Police Sergeant Rex Carney and Officer Steve Eaton arrived at Shoemaker’s home on Vista Road, followed closely by a paramedic team from the local fire department.

As the officers entered his back yard, Shoemaker, unaware of their presence, was regretting what he had done. When his frustrations had reached a fever pitch during his talk with the doctor, he had pulled a .357 Magnum from a drawer in his bedroom and tired two shots into a stack of telephone books lying on the floor beside his bed. Embarrassed by his irrational behavior, he thought of calling Dr. Mount back to apologize, but decided to wait until he was in better control. Instead; he went to the closet and took down a small bag that contained materials needed to clean the gun.

A few minutes later, as Shoemaker worked on the gun, he heard his two dogs barking and thought he heard a loud thump against the side of the house. Though he insists he did not feel threatened, he carried the gun with him into the living room and through the French doors leading to the glassed-in patio. From that point on, the stories of Shoemaker and the police officers differ dramatically.

As he stepped through the door, Shoemaker says, he thought he glimpsed a silhouette of someone wearing a baseball cap crouching behind the barbecue pit near the swimming pool. His next recollection is of a shower of glass flying toward him and a burning pain in his right arm.

Though he has no memory of hearing a shot tired, Shoemaker had indeed been shot twice by Sergeant Carney. The first slug from the officer’s Colt .45 had ripped through his right arm, just below the bicep. A second entered his lower back, then traveled upward through his colon and tore into his pancreas.

Shoemaker was taken by helicopter to Fort Worth’s Harris Hospital, where doctors who performed the emergency surgery gave him little chance to survive. A relative in Florida, after talking with one of the surgeons, immediately flew to Texas to begin making funeral arrangements.

The Keller police have their own version of the shooting. According to the official police report of the incident. Officer Eaton was on the patio when he saw the door open and heard Shoemaker yell, “Stop breaking into my house.” The officer said Shoemaker was posed in a policeman’s firing stance, his pistol gripped with both hands and pointed in the direction of Eaton, According to the report, Eaton drew his gun, identified himself as a police officer, and demanded that Shoemaker put down his gun. Shoemaker replied, “You put your gun down.” Eaton says he did so, hoping that Shoemaker would do the same. When the pilot refused, Eaton says, he retrieved his own gun. (At the end of April 1987, Baton changed his story, saying that he had not, in fact, put his gun down as he had indicated in his initial written report.)

While Eaton and Shoemaker faced each other, Sergeant Carney says he approached the back yard and took cover behind a barbecue pit. Seeing Shoemaker pointing his weapon in the direction of Eaton, Sergeant Carney yelled, “Police. Drop your gun.” When Shoemaker failed to do so, Carney fired three shots in rapid succession. The first shattered the glass of the patio door and struck Shoemaker in the arm.

Still another version of the event was told by Don Christian, a neighbor who had been on a ladder working on his backyard fence. From his vantage point Christian recalls seeing a “stocky police officer” (matching Carney’s description) running into the back yard of Shoemaker’s residence, tailing at one point, then getting up and moving to the barbecue pit. His recollection was that the officer yelled “Freeze!” and immediately fired two shots in the direction of the house. Christian then saw the officer fall backward in the direction of the pool. As he was getting up, he fired a third shot toward the house.

In August 1986, Sergeant Carney reviewed his initial report and revised the original diagram that illustrated the spot from which he had fired the shots. His revision more closely matched the sequence of events earlier described by Don Christian.

While in the hospital, Shoemaker was forced to deal with additional problems. With no one to care for his daughters, he made arrangements with his late wife’s parents, who lived in Europe, to enroll the girls in a private school in England. The in-laws agreed to finance the girls’ education.

Then, shortly after the shooting, the Keller Police Department filed attempted capital murder charges against Shoemaker. The charges were dropped the same week, but on September 11, seventy-two days after the shooting, the Tarrant County Grand Jury indicted Shoemaker on the felony charge of aggravated assault on a police officer.

Finally, on October 24, Shoemaker, fifty pounds lighter and wearing a colostomy bag, left the hospital to stay in the home of friends. Mounting debts had forced him to sell his home on Vista Road.

Now. after a third operation to correct internal damage done by the bullets, Shoemaker lives in a modest Fort Worth apartment and waits for his daughters to return from Europe. He has added a suit against the Keller Police Department to his legal war with Southwest Airlines: that trial has been tentatively set for September. Though he says the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office has offered to dismiss criminal charges against him if he would agree to drop his suit against the city of Keller and its police department, Shoemaker says he is not interested in making any kind of deal.