Police: Fired Fort Worth officer risked citizens' safety

Posted Thursday, Apr. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- A Fort Worth police officer tasked with monitoring sex offenders in east Fort Worth has been fired after allegations that he falsified time sheets, marking down that he had worked full shifts when he was actually making personal visits, hanging out at home, and doing yard work.

While under surveillance for 19 days, Abron Jernigan spent more than 80 hours outside the city on non-work-related activities, according to a disciplinary letter filed last month with the Civil Service Commission.

That included five hours during which Jernigan was supposed to be working a grant-funded overtime detail but failed to even report, the letter states.

"The failure to monitor the registered sex offenders poses a significant risk to the citizens of Fort Worth," states the letter, signed by Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead. "The egregious crimes committed by these individuals require a constant watchful eye in order to ensure compliance with state laws and reduce the possibility of repeat offenders."

The officer was paid almost $3,200 for hours he did not work, the letter states.

Jernigan, who had been with the department for 21 years before his termination on March 12, has appealed.

"What blows me away is this chief's inconsistency in the way he disciplines officers accused of falsifying time sheets," said Jernigan's attorney, Terry Daffron Porter.

Police have submitted the case to the Tarrant County district attorney's office, asking that Jernigan be charged with tampering with a government record.

Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman with the district attorney's office, said the case is under review by the economic crimes unit.

A redacted version of the disciplinary letter was released to the Star-Telegram this week in a response to an open records request filed March 14.

"It is never a popular decision to terminate the employment of a well-liked and respected employee," Halstead said Thursday.

"However, there was overwhelming evidence to sustain each allegation, and these allegations were very serious. I remain committed to our residents and our employees that this type of misconduct will never be tolerated. Regardless of the progression of the criminal case, I will continue to hold all employees accountable."

Under surveillance

The investigation began after a police employee spotted Jernigan, 46, shopping outside the city when he should have been at work, Halstead said.

Investigators monitored Jernigan through the use of "digital surveillance techniques" from Sept. 20 through Oct. 16, according to the letter.

During that time, they frequently observed Jernigan leaving his house after the scheduled start of his shift, dropping his child off at school, and returning home.

Many times, he arrived at police headquarters from an hour to four hours late and left work early.

He was seen during work hours traveling to Arlington and Grand Prairie, visiting people and businesses, and hanging out at his house, once mowing his lawn. Sometimes he drove his city vehicle home, despite not having authorization to do so, the letter states.

"Officer Jernigan's conscious decision to sit at his personal residence outside of the city limits of Fort Worth posed a safety risk to his fellow officers and the citizens of Fort Worth from unmonitored sex offenders, " the letter states. Jernigan had previously received a commander's admonishment for failing to perform assigned duties and driving his personal car while working.

It is not the first time an officer has been fired for falsifying time sheets.

Karen D. Holmes was fired from 2011 over allegations that she had claimed eight-hour days on several time sheets when an investigation found she had only put in a few hours, and in one case, a few minutes of work.

In December, a grand jury indicted Holmes, 53, on a charge of tampering with a government record with intent to defraud/harm. She is free on $2,500 bond awaiting trial on the charge, which is a state jail felony.

In May 2011, one sergeant was fired, one received a commander's admonishment, and two others avoided discipline -- one by resigning and the other by accepting a demotion -- over accusations that they had falsified time sheets while working in the jail.

The fired sergeant, John Ost, later won his job back on appeal after a hearing examiner determined that he believed he had permission from a supervisor for his actions and ruled that the punishment was too severe, reducing it to a 15-day suspension with back pay.

Daffron Porter, who had represented Ost, said the "whole jail sergeant snafu" is a clear example of Halstead's inconsistent ways with dealing with the same allegation.

"You let one retire. You fire one. You demote one, and you give one a written reprimand and they're all accused of the same thing," Porter said. "That is the very definition of inconsistency."

Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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