A Fort Worth firefighter faces a felony charge after he allegedly sucker-punched a 78-year-old man in the face, breaking or chipping seven teeth, in an argument during TCU’s spring football game last week.
Shea O’Neill, 42, was arrested Tuesday evening by TCU police on a warrant accusing him of injury to the elderly, a first-degree felony, after giving police a statement about the incident. He was released from the Mansfield Jail on Wednesday morning on $100,000 bail.
O’Neill has been placed on detached duty with pay, and an administrative investigation is being conducted by the Fort Worth Fire Department’s Office of Professional Standards, fire Lt. Gregg Russell said.
O’Neill and the Arlington man had a heated exchange about O’Neill’s children playing on railing at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
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“He assaulted me. I never even laid a hand on him,” the man said in a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram on Wednesday evening.
“First of all, he’s a coward. When you hit someone when they’re sitting down, you’re a coward,” he said. “He was 36 years younger than me. That makes him a coward with a capital C.”
O’Neill declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Jim Shaw.
Shaw said he was surprised by the high bail because O’Neill has ties to the community, including his work and his family.
“Somebody took a dislike to him,” Shaw said.
He declined to comment further, saying he has not seen the investigators’ affidavit.
‘Please get off the rail’
The Arlington man attended Friday’s spring football game with his 71-year-old wife. They were in the handicapped seating area of the stadium’s student section.
They said three children were climbing and playing on the railing in front of them, blocking their view.
The Star-Telegram agreed not to name the couple because they said they feared retaliation.
The wife, a former teacher of 31 years, said she repeatedly asked the children nicely to get off the railing.
“I was a nervous wreck about those children,” the wife said. “I couldn’t understand why those parents didn’t correct them, so I would correct them sometimes. I did it really nice. I would say, ‘Could you please get down. You’re in my way. I can’t see.’ and ‘You’re going to hurt yourself.’”
The husband said he let his wife try to handle the situation for about 30 minutes before he got involved.
“I stood up and raised my voice and told them to get off the rail in a pretty stern voice,” the husband said. “They did and then they were right back on it.
“I got up again and raised my voice and told them in a much louder voice, ‘Please get off the rail.’ That’s when my first eye contact with [O’Neill] came about.”
The husband said O’Neill yelled at him not to discipline his kids, saying, “I’m the one to do that if I see fit.”
The husband said, “I told him he wasn’t doing a very good job to control his kids.”
‘Smacked me really good’
The husband said that he sat down and that he and O’Neill had a heated exchange. He said he had just looked over his right shoulder toward O’Neill when he suddenly saw a red flash and was knocked out of his seat.
“He hit me square in the face,” the husband said. “I saw a flash. Then my whole front face from my eyes on down to my chin went numb,” the husband said. “… I couldn’t get up because I had cobwebs in my head. He smacked me really good.”
He said he had no warning and was unable to defend himself against the punch, which bloodied his nose and left bruises on his face.
“I did not see it coming. If I had … I would have tried to deflect it or duck,” the husband said. “Once I got up and stabilized myself, then I started after the guy. [Another] guy restrained me and said, ‘Let the police do it.’ It it hadn’t been for him, I would have been on it.”
He acknowledges that with his arthritis and advanced age, he probably wouldn’t have put up much of a fight.
Still, he said, after paying $425 for a temporary patch on two of his teeth and with more extensive dental work still needed, “I’m mad I didn’t get to enjoy throwing a punch at him.”
Taken to hospital
Fort Worth police officer Tammi Robinson, who was working security at the stadium, told TCU police that she was alerted on her radio that an elderly man had been assaulted and needed medical attention, according to an arrest warrant affidavit written by TCU Sgt. Kelly Ham.
Robinson was headed toward the injured man when O’Neill approached her and complained that an elderly man had cussed at him, the affidavit says.
A witness then pointed at O’Neill and asked, “Why did you hit that old man?” Robinson told TCU police.
The affidavit says O’Neill tried to flee, prompting Robinson to grab his shirt to restrain him. Backup officers and emergency medical crews were summoned.
The Arlington man was taken to a hospital for treatment of his injuries. He has two cracked and four chipped teeth, and a crown on a seventh tooth was so damaged that it must be replaced, the couple said.
Murder charge dismissed
O’Neill has been in the news before.
In 2013, he was arrested on a murder charge in Arkansas in the stabbing of 23-year-old Eston Hogue of Hot Springs. The charge was dismissed after investigators determined that O’Neill was the target of a robbery attempt and acted in self-defense.
Tarrant County court records show that O’Neill was sentenced to two years’ probation in September 1994 on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated.
He was released from probation early in June 1995, court records show.
O’Neill has been with the Fire Department since 2002. He was on occupational leave because of an on-duty injury when the TCU incident occurred, officials said.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655