Firing of police chief’s former aide sends harsh message

Posted Friday, May. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There are two ways to look at Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead’s firing of his former top aide over charges of driving while intoxicated.

Halstead’s indefinite suspension of Paul Henderson Thursday could be seen as the chief’s strongest statement yet that off-duty drinking and driving by any officer won’t be tolerated and that no one on the force is above the harshest consequences.

On the other hand, dismissing Henderson before his case plays out in the criminal justice system might appear to contradict the message Halstead sent in January. That was when the chief said any officer arrested on suspicion of DWI going forward would be fired if an internal investigation substantiated the charges, but those with pending cases would be handled on an individual basis.

Henderson’s attorney called Halstead’s action this week inconsistent with his previous public statements and planned to appeal, according to a Star-Telegram news report.

But it’s not unreasonable to believe Halstead is doing what he said he would: considering Henderson’s situation on its own merits and deciding this was what public trust required.

When Henderson was arrested in December while off-duty in Parker County, he was Halstead’s chief of staff and had been one of the department faces issuing indignant statements when other officers were accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.

As of January, 14 Fort Worth police officers had been involved in DWI cases, despite Halstead ratcheting up measures to deal with the problem. The worst episode occurred in December 2009 when Jesus Cisneros, who had worked as a narcotics officer, crashed into Sonia Baker’s car, killing the mother of two. Cisneros was off-duty at the time but speeding in an unmarked police vehicle. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years.

Halstead required alcohol awareness training for all police employees, but that didn’t stop the incidents.

Henderson’s arrest resulted in demotion and a salary cut. Yet, just a month later, Nicolas Ramirez, a DWI enforcement officer, was arrested by Keller police on suspicion of intoxicated driving. Halstead fired him in March.

A persistent problem demands a harsh response.

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