An internal affairs sergeant is now under investigation himself after allegedly calling an attorney an offensive word in a heated exchange during an appeal hearing Monday.
Sgt. S. Benjamin had been subpoenaed as a witness in the appeal hearing of Maurice Middleton, a former Fort Worth officer who was among six officers fired by the department for their alleged role in traffic ticket scandal.
Arriving late to the hearing, Benjamin had first walked into the conference room where the hearing was being held, quipping aloud that he didn’t know why he’d been subpoenaed because he was not involved in the case.
Hearing examiner Norman Bennett then escorted Benjamin to an auditorium where roughly 50 witnesses — most of them police officers — were waiting to be sworn in.
“We’ve got another witness that came in,” Bennett announces to the attorneys, according to an audio recording obtained Thursday by the Star-Telegram.
“Another non-witness,” Benjamin can be heard remarking.
An exchange of words between Middleton’s attorney, Terry Daffron Porter, and Benjamin followed, but much of it is not audible or unintelligible because of background noise. Porter can be heard calling Benjamin’s actions “unprofessional” and adding, “It’s called code of conduct. Read it.”
Two people in the room told the Star-Telegram that they subsequently heard Benjamin call Porter a “bitch.”
Porter confirmed Thursday that she filed a written complaint against Benjamin with Police Chief Jeff Halstead and that she had asked someone outside of internal affairs to investigate.
“It was generally for his actions and coarse and offensive language toward me,” she said.
She refused to disclose additional details about her exchange with Benjamin, stating “it would be inappropriate due to the fact that the matter is currently under investigation.”
Halstead said Porter had initially phoned him regarding Benjamin’s alleged conduct, then sent him a formal complaint.
“It was alleged unprofessional comments made in a public setting which cannot be tolerated in our profession,” Halstead said.
Halstead said such complaints do not rise to the level of formal internal affairs investigations but are instead investigated by the officer’s chain of command. Because Benjamin is assigned to the internal affairs unit, his supervising lieutenant within that unit is conducting the inquiry, Halstead said.
Discipline for a sustained allegation of unprofessional conduct can range from a coaching session and training to some days off without pay.
In the end, no witnesses were called to testify in Monday’s appeal hearing.
The hearing was recessed until July after it was revealed that Middleton and other officers accused in the scandal could still face federal charges despite state criminal charges being dismissed against them in January.