Fort Worth

At community meeting, Fort Worth chief defends officer’s punishment

Community meeting about discipline of officer in viral arrest video

Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald answer questions at a meeting that was, at times, contentious. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald answer questions at a meeting that was, at times, contentious. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

At a community meeting Thursday night between residents, city and police officials, the arrest last month of an African-American woman and her two teen daughters by a white officer was the hot topic.

For the first time, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald gave more details about one of the key complaints critics have had: that officer William Martin, who went to take a report from Jacqueline Craig that a neighbor had choked her 7-year-old son, wound up arresting Craig and her daughters instead.

A video of the arrest has been viewed more than 3.3 million times since it was posted on Facebook on Dec. 21. Martin was suspended for 10 days without pay and is appealing that decision.

The 10-day suspension has angered some Fort Worth residents, who say Martin should have been fired.

On Thursday night at the community meeting, Fitzgerald asked an assistant chief, Ed Kraus, to show how Craig’s child was choked by the neighbor. The investigator lightly placed his hand on the chief’s shoulder.

Addressing the crowd, the chief asked, “Is that what you envisioned of what was meant by choking?”

Kraus answered: “Not as we know choking as a blockage of the airway.”

Fitzgerald: “Some here believe a child was choked and nothing was done about that. We can agree that one citizen should never put his hands on another person’s child.

“The perception among many here is that we allowed a child to be choked and nothing was done. That’s patently wrong. We have to get out of this idea that we are trying to hide things. We are a transparent agency. We went out to the community and talked to people.”

Fitzgerald also said that witnesses would not have been able to tell how much pressure was applied by the man accused of choking the boy and that from a legal standpoint, unwanted touching can be an assault.

The chief’s demonstration did little to satisfy some in the crowd that filled more than half the sanctuary at Christ Church in southwest Fort Worth.

“The exercise that you gave here was insulting,” the Rev. Michael Moore told Fitzgerald. “It would have been a totally different situation had you put your hands on my grandson. We follow the law and then the law turns against us.”

Then Moore addressed Mayor Betsy Price, who was also at the meeting. He took issue with her previous characterization of Martin’s actions as an “isolated incident.”

Cellphone video shows a situation escalating and raises questions about the interaction with Fort Worth Police.

“When we consider what happens in the poor communities in Fort Worth, policing is different,” Moore said. “Because had that been a white child, we wouldn’t have been here tonight. We want that perpetrator to be arrested. Put him into the system and let the system vindicate him.”

Price replied: “I won’t say it’s an isolated incident if that’s a sore spot. What I will say is that the behavior on that video is not what we expect from our police officers.”

Price was scolded by the Rev. Michael Bell after she cautioned the crowd that the meeting could not turn into “just a bitch session.” Bell said that the residents were not children and that she could not talk to the community in that way.

Price made her comments after remarks by Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who said that when she sees an uproar about police misconduct in the news, it is in another city. And that nationwide, all people do when another such incident occurs is talk, and then nothing happens.

“This is our opportunity to stop talking,” Gray said. “In truth, this isn’t about Ms. Craig, this isn’t about the officer. This is about a 7-year-old boy. Whatever we do, we have to do it together.”

Price said the actions taken after this incident have to be constructive.

The conversations at the meeting also grew heated when several said they did not want Martin back in their community. Fitzgerald said Martin treated the Craigs discourteously but argued that the best person to repair the damage was the person responsible for the damage.

“We don’t hide people — we make them accountable,” Fitzgerald said. “My decision to put Officer Martin back in that community gives the officer a chance to redeem himself.”

Not everyone agreed with that.

“If I commit an assault, Chief, I don’t get a chance at redemption; I get a record,” said Cory Hughes, a local black activist. “What you’re telling us is that he can assault our community and it’s all right.”

The audience also seemed taken aback by the revelation that Martin was eligible for a promotion. Fitzgerald explained that Martin had taken a test before the Dec. 21 incident and completed it with a score that made him eligible for promotion. But Fitzgerald said he signs off on promotions and just because Martin is eligible does not mean a promotion is guaranteed.

“I grew up in west Philadelphia and I understand,” Fitzgerald said. “I make sure that every officer who works here lives up to our expectations.”

A city official said the meeting was scheduled weeks before the Craig family arrest occurred and was called to foster closer relations between the police and Fort Worth residents.

The case began when Craig, 46, called police on Dec. 21 to report she suspected that her neighbor, an adult male, had choked her 7-year-old son because he dropped some raisins in his yard and refused to pick them up when asked.

Craig’s 19-year-old daughter, Brea Hymond, was recording a video of the discussion between the officer and Craig when tensions rose. The video showed the following sequence of events:

Officer: “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”

Craig: “He can’t prove that my son littered. But it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.”

Officer: “Why not?”

As the conversation between the officer and Craig heated up, Craig’s 15-year-daughter, Jacques Craig, stepped in between the two and the officer grabbed her from behind. The video shows the officer being peppered with profane language from women who had gathered at the scene. At one point, the officer pulled and pointed his Taser at Craig and Jacques Craig. He also wrestled them both to the ground.

Craig and her older daughter face charges of interference with public duties, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failing to provide identification, police said. Jacques Craig has been accused of interference with public duties, police said.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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