Report: Hostile behavior cited in Fort Worth traffic division

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Responses

Richard Van Houten

President, Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association

The Fort Worth Police Officers' Association, the Fort Worth Latino Peace Officers' Association and the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers' Association have collectively made precedent setting decisions to unify under one labor voice. We are extremely proud of the efforts we have made to create an environment of inclusiveness that is being supported by the management of the City of Fort Worth. Regardless of external issues, such as the Coleman Report, we will continue to strive toward a future inclusive environment that will enable all officers to be represented equally. All three Association share in the common goal of establishing working conditions in which all officers are treated equally. We will be monitoring this situation as it develops and look forward to a resolution by city management that supports our common goals.

City of Fort Worth

The City of Fort Worth will not tolerate any behavior and actions that allow discrimination to be a part of our work environment. This investigation was conducted to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and provided equal opportunity in the workplace.

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An outside investigation into complaints filed against the Fort Worth Police Department found no hard evidence of racial discrimination as three black officers had alleged, but concluded that there were instances of hostile and harassing behavior that went unstopped by department leaders.

A summary report on the investigation, which was presented to the City Council in executive session Tuesday, prompted Police Chief Jeff Halstead to apologize in a video posted on the department’s YouTube channel.

Sgt. Roy Hudson, president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the association hasn’t been provided a copy of the summary report and called the chief’s video “in poor taste and untimely.”

The report was released to the media on Wednesday.

In November, the city agreed to pay $45,000 to Coleman & Associates Consultants to investigate grievances filed with the city’s Human Resources Department in the summer of 2013.

Two of the complaints, filed by Sgt. Delbert Johnson and Lt. E.G. Edney, involved race-based discriminatory harassment and treatment that the officers allege they endured while assigned to the department’s traffic division.

A third, by Sgt. Dwayne Dalco, the former president of the Black Law Enforcement Officers Association, alleges that he was discriminated against by Halstead after he and another board member found themselves the focus of an internal affairs investigation, which Dalco said started after they had met with Assistant City Manager Charles Daniels.

The summary report concluded that there “was substantial concern and consistent documentable evidence” that police members and leaders did not act within department policies and guidelines.

“The CA [Coleman Associates] investigative process did not yield a hard finding of race-based discrimination,” the report states. “CA did identify situations where supervisors and leaders in the Fort Worth Police Department’s Chain of Command had reason to know about behaviors and actions that were central to the complaints, and they failed to take action that would stop the harassing behavior and correct the course of events.”

The full report is expected to be released Friday, a city spokesman said.

‘Swift and serious action’

In a video posted Tuesday on the department’s “Inside the FWPD” YouTube channel, Halstead apologized on behalf of the department.

“It was very apparent within the report that even I made some very poor judgment decisions and I have apologized to anyone and everyone that I have hurt,” Halstead says in the video. “Hopefully they accept my heartfelt apology and they understand that I was merely making decisions to move the organization forward. By no means would I ever do something intentionally to hurt someone and, without a doubt, do something specifically because of the way someone looks.”

Hudson said the black officers association would like to have seen and discussed the report’s findings with Halstead before the chief commented.

“Instead of putting it out on social media, I feel it would have been appropriate for us to sit down as an association but we weren’t given that opportunity,” Hudson said. “We don’t have any findings and we’ve been patiently waiting.”

Mayor Betsy Price said she was disappointed to learn about the report’s findings but was “delighted that the city manager and assistant city manager took it seriously and called for this independent review.”

“Based on that review, incidents occurred that were not appropriately addressed. These incidents do a great disservice, not only to citizens, but also to those police officers who continue to serve our diverse communities with highest level of integrity,” Price said. “Everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity. And, our officers deserve to have 100 percent of the public’s trust.”

Price said she and the council expect Halstead and the city manager’s office to “take swift and serious action and follow the recommendations.”

In a written statement released Wednesday, Halstead said that the findings will assist the department “as we strive to increase our professionalism and remain dedicated to respecting one another.”

“… Any future sustained violations of employee misconduct related to racist behavior, towards our employees or our citizens, will result in significant discipline, up to and including termination of employment,” Halstead wrote.

The complaints

Although the report does not mention the complaining officers by name, the three officers’ grievances were previously obtained by the Star-Telegram through the Texas Open Records Act.

Johnson and Edney’s complaints both mentioned a 2010 “snowman incident” in which three sergeants were accused of building and photographing a snowman outside traffic headquarters with a police cap, noose around its neck and banana in its hand.

Johnson alleged he was the victim of a “hostile work environment,” spearheaded by a now retired sergeant who had been upset about discipline issued against another sergeant because of the snowman incident.

Edney complained that he had tried to repair morale in the damaged traffic division, but was later targeted by higher-ups who accused him of having allegiances with others, citing his failure to attend a sergeant’s retirement party. Edney alleged he was unfairly transferred out of the traffic division and made the scapegoat for all that has occurred in the traffic division before and during his leadership of the unit.

Dalco’s grievance alleges that he was discriminated against after the chief learned that he and a fellow board member met with the assistant city manager, prompting their investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit.

Halstead previously told the Star-Telegram that he recommended that the Fort Worth Police Officers Association file a complaint with internal affairs over concerns that the meeting could have been a violation of the city’s Meet & Confer Agreement.

The findings

In its investigation into the grievances, Coleman Associates conducted 23 interviews. Two retirees declined to be interviewed, the report notes, and a third was a no-show for a scheduled interview.

In regards to the “snowman incident,” the study found that two of three officers involved received documented disciplinary action while a third, who had a “major role,” was spared.

“Hostile and harassing behavior was introduced and continued for more than three years by the primary supervisory officers named in the complaint,” the study states. “The persons interviewed indicated that the harassing behavior was widespread, and it was widely known throughout the department that the behavior was recurring, and it was known who was initiating the action.”

Despite this, the study concluded, insufficient actions were taken by the chain of command to stop the harassment.

“Based on the interviews with department employees, the harassment continued with the knowledge of upper management throughout the three year period …” it states.

Regarding the internal affairs investigation of Dalco, the study states that both higher and lower ranking officers expressed the belief that such an investigation was “not appropriate.”

“Other interviewees indicated that using IAD for alleged violations of civil or administrative issues sent a message that did not promote trust,” the study states.

‘It’s very egregious’

In his video, Halstead acknowledged that the two officers within the traffic division were wronged.

“A little over a year and a half ago, two of our employees within the traffic division were disrespected and retaliated against simply because of their skin color,” Halstead said. “It’s very egregious. It’s very hurtful and I know it’s never going to happen again because I’m not going to tolerate it.”

Halstead said he’s met with the different employee associations and both affected officers in person “and I did everything within my rank and my power to make them whole.”

“I apologized to both of the affected employees. I waived a transfer for them so they could go back to their assignment or go to an assignment of their choosing because they were wronged,” he said.

Halstead said he’s developed what he dubs the “Three E” action plan — Equality, Equity for Everyone.

“This action plan will be a very, very important document we need to not only just read, we need to respect, but we also have to provide training for all our employees, especially our supervisors,” Halstead said.

City Manager David Cooke said his office will be involved with the implementation of changes and monitoring the department’s progress.

“What we will have is a work plan with Chief Halstead in identifying some of the steps related to implementing some of those recommendations. I don’t believe we have an issue with any of the recommendations, so it is just an action plan now.”

Cooke said he can’t elaborate on specific disciplinary action because of the report, but said the harassment outlined in the report won’t be tolerated.

“Those incidents have occurred and they were not appropriately handled at the time they occurred. Some of those things are several years old and that stuff won’t be tolerated,” Cooke said.

Cooke said there has also been talk about applying some of the report’s recommendations citywide, but that is still under discussion with human resources.

Staff writer Caty Hirst contributed to this report.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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