FORT WORTH -- The mother of a 28-year-old woman who was injured by a Fort Worth police officer during an arrest said she was pleasantly surprised by the Police Department's investigation and decision to fire him for using excessive force.
Elizabeth Prado said she called Internal Affairs more than a week after her daughter, Jennifer Muniz, suffered a bloody nose, broken teeth and bruising March 14 after leading police on a 22-mile chase.
Prado said that, to her surprise, she learned from Sgt. Mark Ball that he was already investigating the case after another sergeant saw the arrest on video taken from a police helicopter. On Thursday, she was told that the department had fired the officer, Wes Featherston.
"I really did not expect anything to come out of this, other than all the time and effort on my part and their part," Prado said. "I thought the conclusion was going to be 'This officer was within his rights. She's a criminal. She was being chased. She led the chase. So sorry.'"
Featherston, who had been with the department since September 2008, is appealing his indefinite suspension. His attorney has said the allegations are inaccurate.
Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman, said the case "serves as an example of the department taking proactive steps to address many challenges in policing."
"We are encouraged to know that we are providing excellent service, building trust in the community and that we are beginning to see progress in the manner that we are addressing these challenges," he said.
Henderson said that 11 other allegations had been made against Featherston in his nearly two years with the department. Four of those, he said, involved use-of-force issues that investigations could not substantiate.
A phone call from the chase
Prado said her daughter, a mother of six girls, has been on a downward spiral that has included drug use since about two years ago, when she separated from the youngest child's father.
Prado said Child Protective Services placed her daughter's oldest five children in her care in April 2009. The youngest girl is being cared for by her father.
She said her daughter called shortly before 4 a.m. March 14 while being pursued by officers, crying and saying she was scared and didn't want to go to jail.
"I could hear all the sirens. She said, 'They're chasing me,'" Prado recalled. "I said: 'You need to stop. They can shoot you.' She said: 'Mom, I don't want to go to prison. I don't want to leave y'all, my kids.'"
Prado said she remained on the line as her daughter finally pulled over.
"All of the sudden, I could hear a male voice approach the car and holler loudly, 'Put the phone down!' She said, 'Mom. I've got to go.'"
She said her daughter apparently set the phone down but did not hang up.
"I could just hear the officer saying, 'Get down. Put your hands up. She just said, 'OK. OK.'"
Police officials said despite Muniz's complying with the officers' demands, police video showed Featherston, who had not been authorized to be at the scene, intentionally trip the woman, taking her face down to the ground. They say he then repeatedly struck her with his knee, including a blow to the face that knocked her head back.
'They beat me up'
Prado said that when her daughter later called from the Mansfield Jail, she told Prado: "Mom, they broke my teeth. They beat me up."
Prado said that when she and her granddaughters went to visit Muniz the next day, camera in hand to document the injuries, they were horrified at what they saw.
"At Mansfield, they don't give you any clothing, so there's still blood on her clothes, her hair is matted. She's still got blood all around her nose, her cheek, her neck," Prado said.
In April, Muniz pleaded guilty to evading arrest in connection with the pursuit and was sentenced to six months in a state jail. That same day, she was also sentenced to six months in state jail for theft of a vehicle and possession of a controlled substance and five years in prison for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
"I'm not saying this is an innocent little girl, but she has rights," said Prado, who said she is exploring her daughter's legal options.
She said Muniz still has trouble moving her arm and has not had her teeth repaired. She is hoping that her daughter will clean herself up while in prison so that she can be reunited with her children.
"I feel a big relief for my daughter and the girls, just for all of us, because the girls are looking at this as, 'Is this what really happens out there?'" Prado said. "I'm trying to teach them, you follow the rules, but you also have rights. You just don't let people run all over you."