A tearful Jacqueline Craig recounted her December arrest on Wednesday, saying Fort Worth police officer William Martin made her feel like a failure when he took her into custody after she called police to report an alleged assault of her 7-year-old son.
“I felt worthless as a parent to know that I called somebody out to help my son and he didn’t get it,” Craig testified as she sat a few feet from Martin at a hearing to appeal his 10-day unpaid suspension for the incident. “I couldn’t protect my kids and my job is to protect them, and [Martin] took that away from me.”
Martin also testified Wednesday, saying that he regretted being “rude” toward Craig and her family but denying that he used excessive force. He also said he had trouble communicating with Craig because she was “very hostile.”
Martin served his suspension in January. After his appeal hearing, which is expected to last through Friday, independent arbitrator Norman Bennett will decide whether to uphold the punishment or reduce it with back pay.
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It’s the latest development in an incident that led to claims of police brutality and racism and to the controversial demotion of high-ranking police administrators accused of leaking Martin’s bodycam video and personnel file.
Craig’s arrest happened Dec. 21. A neighbor, Itamar Vardi, had complained that Craig’s son had littered in his yard. Craig accused Vardi of grabbing her son by the neck.
When Martin arrived, he asked Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”
The situation soon escalated, and when one of Craig’s daughters stepped between Martin and Craig, Martin arrested them both.
Video of the incident went viral on Facebook and led to widespread criticism of Martin; civil rights leaders continue to demand that he be fired. Martin is white and the women he arrested are black.
Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald testified Tuesday that Martin was suspended because he failed to check on Craig’s son upon arrival at the scene and because he used excessive force during the arrests. Fitzgerald said Martin was “definitely disrespectful” toward Craig and her family.
‘I shouldn’t have said it’
Martin on Wednesday said he regretted making the comment about littering to Craig.
“I apologize for it,” he testified. “I shouldn’t have said it.”
But, he testified, he had no knowledge of the allegation that Craig’s son had been choked until he arrived. At that time, he said, he found no evidence that an assault had occurred.
“The original call was for littering,” Martin testified. “There was no ambulance called. If someone was truly injured, they would have called for [medical] assistance. I know children exaggerate from time to time. It just didn’t seem to me that somebody had been choked.”
Craig testified that Vardi admitted choking her son. Vardi was later ticketed for assault by contact, a Class C misdemeanor. His case is pending in municipal court. Craig also denied in her testimony that she or her family threatened Vardi and another neighbor, as Martin’s attorney, Terry Daffron, alleged Tuesday.
Most of Martin’s testimony focused on the two allegations of excessive force: when he raised the arms of Craig’s daughter, Brea Hymond, behind her back while she was handcuffed and when he pushed another girl near her neck to get her away from his patrol car.
Fitzgerald on Tuesday called the pushing incident a “neck chop” and said he should have suspended Martin for 15 days after further review.
Martin said the girl, whose name has not been released, “was interfering with my arrest process.”
“That’s why I pushed her back,” Martin said. “I did not choke her. I pushed her in the upper chest … and that’s how I’m trained to clear the scene and get people out of the way.”
‘It was painful’
When asked about raising Hymond’s arms, Martin said he was trying to use “pain compliance” to get Hymond under control. She yelling at Martin and “pulling away,” Martin said.
“Even with her arms raised somewhat, she’s able to turn around and face me,” Martin said. “I’ve been head-butted before and spit on by a handcuffed prisoner. It’s not a good feeling. I decided it wasn’t going to happen again.”
Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Dierdorf responded by saying Martin’s reasoning contradicted his initial statement after the incident, in which he said he raised Hymond’s arms to stop her from yelling.
Martin said he hadn’t been able to view his bodycam video before making his initial statement. He said the video helped him “fill in the gaps” of what happened.
“It doesn’t contradict the [initial] statement — it adds to it,” Martin said. “She was causing a breach of the peace and it felt like she was trying to get away.”
Hymond testified after her mother Wednesday afternoon. She said she wasn’t pulling away from Martin; she just refused to answer his question.
“It was painful,” Hymond testified, “but I didn’t care because he had already hurt me.”
Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday.