Fort Worth

Punch lands police association president with 3-day suspension

Sgt. Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, had been on restricted duty during the investigation.
Sgt. Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, had been on restricted duty during the investigation. Star-Telegram archives

The president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association has been suspended for three days after striking another officer while at a convention on South Padre Island in September.

Sgt. Rick Van Houten said he will not appeal the suspension.

“I agreed to accept the discipline and not appeal the decision. I made this decision for several reasons,” Van Houten said in a statement. “First and foremost, while the culpability is shared, I am owning my role in the incident and admit that I should have found another way to handle an aggressor. Secondly, as a sergeant in the department and the president of the FWPOA, I hold myself to a higher standard and I know that others do as well.”

The incident occurred Sept. 9 as officers from across the state gathered for the 40th-anniversary convention of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

Van Houten and Adrian Pina, an El Paso officer and former CLEAT executive board member, were in a hospitality room at the Pearl South Padre hotel at about 3:40 a.m. when a dispute broke out.

Pina reported to South Padre Island officers that Van Houten became upset with him and punched him in the face, according to a police report.

Officers attempted to locate Van Houten at the hotel but were unsuccessful.

Van Houten has not been cited in connection with the incident but the case remains open, South Padre officials have said.

According to the disciplinary letter filed Tuesday with the Civil Service Commission, Pina got a cut on his chin from being struck and a cut to his back after falling.

“The other male claimed that he was assaulted without provocation,” the letter states.

The letter states Van Houten and other independent witnesses have indicated Pina was “intoxicated and antagonistic.”

Van Houten “advised he was acting in self-defense and that the other male instigated the incident,” states the letter, signed by Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.

The letter states Van Houten’s actions violated state laws and the department’s general orders and put Van Houten and the department in a negative light.

Van Houten had been placed on restricted duty while internal affairs investigated the accusations.

Though he was stripped of his badge and gun while on restricted duty, Van Houten was still allowed to participate in meet-and-confer contract negotiations with the city and in other functions as association president.

The association, however, filed a grievance with Fitzgerald, taking issue with the requirement imposed by the department that Van Houten must brief his chain of command while on restricted duty on all FWPOA business he conducts.

The association alleged those orders illegally interfered in protected FWPOA activities.

In a response written by Assistant Chief Ed Kraus, the department stated Van Houten had admitted to striking the other officer and still faced potential criminal charges.

They argued that they had given Van Houten more latitude than other officers in similar situations by waiting two weeks before placing him on restricted duty and that no police administrators have asked Van Houten to disclose the nature or substances of any FWPOA business matters.

City Manager David Cooke issued a response Nov. 23, proposing that Van Houten’s restricted-duty assignment be clarified to eliminate any references to FWPOA business.

Cooke stated Van Houten would be required to provide an advance outline of his schedule and contact information should investigators need to reach him while he was under investigation, but would not be required to provide details of association activities.

On Dec. 2, the association accepted Cooke’s proposal.

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd

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