Former Assistant Police Chief Abdul Pridgen said in an interview with the Star-Telegram this week that his demotion was “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I’ve ever seen” and that he will continue to speak out on the issue.
Part of that includes a GoFundMe page created this week in which Pridgen and former Deputy Chief Vance Keyes — both of whom were demoted after Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald accused them of leaking another officer’s confidential documents — are seeking money from supporters to “fight for justice” against the police department and the city.
The GoFundMe page’s goal is $76,000. Pridgen made $168,000 a year as an assistant chief, according to a Texas Tribune database of government salaries. Keyes made $133,973 a year as deputy chief. Fitzgerald demoted both men to the rank of captain, where they would make $123,926 annually, according to city figures.
“We are calling on you, the citizens of this great city … to come to our aid,” Keyes says in a video posted on the page.
“Please stand with us for justice,” Pridgen says in the video.
Pridgen, in a phone interview Wednesday, said the GoFundMe money would be used for possible legal action.
A description on the page — which was created Monday by retired police Sgt. Kevin Fitchett, a former president of the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers Association — said the funds also would be used to launch an “Initiative for Transparent and Accountable Policing.”
Fitchett could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Fitzgerald declined to comment on the page, but he “respects Capt. Pridgen’s right to form his own opinions,” Lt. Paula Fimbres, police spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday.
The online fundraiser is the latest development since the viral arrest of Fort Worth mother Jacqueline Craig on Dec. 21.
Craig, who is black, had called police to report an alleged assault of her son. But when Officer William Martin arrived, the situation escalated and Martin, who is white, ended up arresting Craig and her two daughters.
The incident was broadcast live on Facebook and went viral, leading to widespread criticism of the police department and claims of racism against Martin, who was suspended for 10 days.
Last month, Fitzgerald accused Pridgen and Keyes of leaking Martin’s bodycam video from the incident as well as confidential documents from his personnel file to Craig’s attorney, Lee Merritt, who shared the information with the media.
Fitzgerald demoted both Pridgen and Keyes and also recommended to the Civil Service Commission that Pridgen be further demoted to sergeant. The Civil Service Commission has not ruled on the recommendation.
Fitzgerald has said both men were in Pridgen’s office when leaked information was being downloaded to an external hard drive connected to Pridgen’s computer. The same files, Fitzgerald said, were uploaded to a public website “by someone outside of the police department.”
Keyes denied any involvement in the leak at a news conference several days later. In the interview Wednesday, Pridgen also denied any involvement in the leak, calling the leak investigation “shoddy” and “improper.”
In the video on the GoFundMe page, Keyes says, “All we did was speak out against the hypocrisy that has come to dominate the culture of the Police Department.”
“Police officers, for the most part, are good people. They want to speak out. They want to do the right thing. But they are demonized, their characters are tarnished … when they come forward to say, ‘enough is enough.’ ”
Pridgen, in the video, says that he and Keyes’ demotions prove that “others will be intimidated” by police officials.
“Those who have an inkling in their hearts to do the right thing are going to be frightened of the consequences that have befallen myself and Vance Keyes,” he says.
Pridgen’s and Keyes’ involvement in the Craig case was brought up earlier this month during Martin’s hearing to appeal his 10-day suspension.
Martin’s attorney, Terry Daffron, alleged that Pridgen and Keyes, who oversaw internal affairs in their former roles, unfairly influenced the investigation into Martin’s conduct.
“That is a gross inaccuracy and someone embellishing facts,” Pridgen said Wednesday.
Detective Jake White, the internal investigator who handled Martin’s case, testified at the appeal hearing that Pridgen and Keyes acted in an “unusual” manner on the night of Craig’s arrest, attempting to get Craig released from jail immediately and saying that her outstanding warrants were “unconfirmed.”
Pridgen said he and Keyes were simply trying to remedy what they believed to be a wrongful arrest.
“I call that leadership,” Pridgen said.
Daffron, Martin’s attorney, issued a statement responding to the GoFundMe page: “Yet again, Keyes and Pridgen attack Officer Martin and make false statements to downplay their egregious conduct. I am not holding my breath that these individuals will actually be investigated for their false statements and the general orders violations contained in this video.
“The leak of Martin's confidential personnel file should be about accountability and responsibility, but instead it is all about deniability.”
According to the department policy, officers are “free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among co-workers, or negatively affect the public perception of the Fort Worth Police Department.”
Officers should not post information about other employees without their permission, the policy says.
When asked if the GoFundMe page would create a conflict at work, Pridgen said he’s not concerned.
“I have never worried about how any decision I make will be viewed when I know I’ve been doing the right thing,” Pridgen said. “What’s right is right … My outlook is to continue to do my job until something else happens. I’m just proud of the community that they’re not going to sit on the sideline.”