A white police officer whose arrest of a black woman and her two teenage daughters went viral on social media has been suspended without pay for 10 days — a level of punishment that the family’s supporters criticized heavily after it was announced Monday.
Officer William Martin was “contrite” and “sorry” about the incident, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said a press conference Monday afternoon, calling the suspension “significant punishment.”
Martin had responded to a potential assault call at a residence in southwest Fort Worth on the afternoon of Dec. 21 and the situation soon escalated. A daughter of Jacqueline Craig, the woman who called police, recorded the incident on her cellphone.
Those videos and others were reviewed during the investigation, Fitzgerald said. “We left no stone unturned,” he said.
The chief said that the decision to suspended Martin for 10 days was his and that some members of his command staff felt he should have been more lenient.
“But the buck stops here,” Fitzgerald said. He said Martin showed neglect of duty and discourtesy. The disciplinary letter Fitzgerald sent to the Fort Worth Civil Service Commission says neglect of duty includes using excessive force.
“Officer Martin violated state and departmental rules and policies by using excessive force, being disrespectful, and failing to thoroughly investigate a criminal offense,” the letter says.
Fitzgerald, who previously said Martin was rude but not racist, said the officer will undergo more training before he returns to duty. His 10-day suspension begins Tuesday, and he will return to patrol work in the same neighborhood where last month’s incident occurred. He appealed the punishment Monday.
The letter says, “Though there were multiple errors in judgment by Officer Martin in this case, it is my belief that he has a future as a Fort Worth Police Officer and that his actions do not warrant an indefinite suspension.”
If Martin’s punishment is reduced in arbitration, he will receive compensation for the days he was suspended.
His attorney, Terry Daffron, said in a statement: “Clearly, we do not agree with the findings contained in the Chief’s disciplinary letter. We look forward to a fair, neutral, and impartial hearing process, free from political pressure and influence, one where Officer Martin will finally have a ‘voice’ and all of the evidence will be considered by the arbitrator.”
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Craig, the woman who was arrested in the incident last month, said in a Facebook video Monday that Craig and her family were “in disbelief, shocked and upset” at the officer’s 10-day suspension.
“The Police Department has failed the city of Fort Worth and the people of Fort Worth,” Merritt said in the video. “They sent a clear message out to the African-American community and the world community. And I don’t care how many black faces they put in uniform, they put a message out that our lives are less valuable.”
Religious and civil rights activists also criticized the department Monday, including at an evening protest in front of City Hall attended by about 40 people.
“We don’t want this officer back in our community,” said Lee Mohammad, minister of Mosque #52 Nation of Islam Fort Worth.
Said former Star-Telegram editor and columnist Bob Ray Sanders: “I had a small part in the selection committee for the Fort Worth police chief and I am disappointed. A week’s vacation for this police officer is insufficient.”
‘Just trying to protect my mom’
Craig, 46, had called police to report that she suspected that her neighbor, an adult male, had choked her 7-year-old son because he dropped some raisins in his yard and refused to pick them up when asked.
Craig’s 19-year-old daughter, Brea Hymond, was videoing the discussion between Martin and Craig when things got a little testy.
Martin: “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”
Craig: “He can’t prove that my son littered.“But it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.”
Martin: “Why not?”
As the conversation between the officer and Craig heated up, Craig’s 15-year-daughter, Jacques Craig, stepped in between the two and the officer grabbed her from behind. The video shows Martin being peppered with profane language from women who had gathered at the scene. At one point, Martin pulled and pointed his Taser at Craig and Jacques Craig. He also wrestled them both to the ground.
Jacques Craig told the Star-Telegram that she “was just trying to protect my mom.”
Eventually, Craig and her two daughters were placed in police vehicles and taken away from the house, in the 7400 block of Rock Garden Trial.
Craig and Hymond, were arrested and Jacques Craig was taken to a juvenile detention center.
Craig’s niece, Porsha Craver, posted an edited version of the profanity-laced video of the arrest that went viral, sparking the ire of hundreds of viewers, some who called for the officer to be fired.
Craver’s video had been viewed more than 3.3 million times.
A 30-minute version of the video was released later.
Fitzgerald’s disciplinary letter released Monday said Martin used excessive force when he “raised the handcuffed arms of [Hymond] towards her head after she refused to provide identifying information.”
He displayed “disrespectful behavior,” the letter said, in his statements to Craig, including asking her why she hadn’t taught her son to not litter.
“In my discussions with Officer Martin, he was contrite, acknowledging responsibility for the mistakes that he made, and expressing remorse for those mistakes,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Officer Martin also conveyed a willingness to accept counseling and criticism for his actions.”
Case forwarded to DA’s office
The case against Craig and her older daughter has been forwarded to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office for review and presentation to the grand jury, according to police.
Craig and her older daughter face charges of interference with public duties, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failing to provide identification, police said. Jacques Craig has been accused of interference with public duties, police said.
The case involving the resident accused by the family of assaulting Craig’s 7-year-old son will also be presented to a grand jury, police said.
Merritt, in a news conference Monday, said Craig and her family want the charges against them dropped and charges filed against the resident.
Merritt also said Craig and her family wished that Martin had been fired, a call that protesters have made since the arrest video went viral.
Jasmine Crockett, another attorney for Craig, said Craig spent most of Monday crying, believing her children were not served justice.
“She’s been crying ever since the decision came down,” Crockett said. “Her words to me exactly were … ‘You would get more justice if someone kicked a dog. This decision tells me that my children’s lives aren’t even worth the life that a dog would have.’”
Staff writer Mitch Mitchell contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.