Fort Worth assistant chiefs demoted over leak investigation
Two high-ranking Fort Worth police officials were demoted from department command staff to the rank of captain Friday, accused of leaking an officer’s body camera video from a controversial arrest and his personnel file.
Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, who handed down the punishment, also recommended that Abdul Pridgen, formerly an assistant chief, be demoted to sergeant, pending approval from the Civil Service Commission. Fitzgerald recommended to the commission a three-day suspension for Vance Keyes, formerly a deputy chief. Both men plan appeals to the commission. Their attorneys question whether evidence found during the internal investigation is sufficient.
Fitzgerald announced the punishments at a news conference Friday evening, saying computer evidence linked Pridgen to the leak. Fitzgerald said both men were in Pridgen’s office when leaked information was being downloaded to an external hard drive.
The personnel file and bodycam video at issue were those of officer William Martin, whose questionable behavior and arrests of Fort Worth resident Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters Dec. 21 have led to widespread criticism of him and the Police Department. Martin is white and the women arrested are black.
Lee Merritt, one of Craig’s attorneys, provided the documents and body cam video of the arrests to The Associated Press. He said at the time he received the footage from a trusted source.
Fitzgerald on Friday said evidence from the internal investigation showed that Martin’s confidential files were downloaded on Jan. 18 to an external storage device connected to Pridgen’s computer.
“We have video and security evidence that [Pridgen] and Keyes were in Pridgen’s office at that time,” Fitzgerald said. “And eventually, both officers confirmed those facts.”
The same files, Fitzgerald said, were uploaded to a public website “by someone outside of the police department.”
“Both of these men were in the chain of command that oversees the Internal Affairs section and had a duty to protect those sensitive files,” Fitzgerald said. “Every Fort Worth police officer has an obligation to be truthful and trustworthy.”
Fitzgerald said neither Pridgen nor Keyes fully cooperated during the internal investigation.
“Both of these men knew more than they disclosed to investigators,” Fitzgerald said.
Pridgen and Keyes, who have been on detached duty during the investigation, learned of their punishments in meetings with Fitzgerald on Friday.
“I’ve done nothing wrong and justice will be served,” Pridgen told reporters as he left police headquarters.
Attorney Pete Schulte, who represents Pridgen, said Pridgen had downloaded the files Jan. 18 as preparation for a packet of information Fitzgerald had requested about the incident.
Schulte said investigators could not have confirmed that the files uploaded to the public website were leaked by Pridgen.
“They’re making a bunch of assumptions that would never stand up in court,” Schulte said.
Keyes could not be reached for comment Friday.
Attorney George Milner, who represented Keyes, also questioned the evidence against his client.
"How in the world would Keyes — while just being in Pridgen's office — how would he know what Pridgen was doing?” Schulte asked. “The chief ought to be more focused on police misconduct in his own ranks rather than an exemplary public servant who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Police and city leaders have previously said the release of both the video and Martin’s personnel file were illegal.
“We will prosecute to the fullest extent whoever was responsible for leaking this video,” Fitzgerald said during a Jan. 27 news conference alongside Mayor Betsy Price.
Fitzgerald on Friday did not rule out possible criminal charges.
“The disciplinary action here was taken as a result of an administrative investigation,” Fitzgerald said. “But I will not rule out the fact that something else will happen later on. I can tell you that for the purposes of our internal investigation, this is concluded.”
Mayor Betsy Price supported Fitzgerald’s decision to demote the officers.
“I know he took these actions with careful consideration,” Price said in a statement. “This is difficult for everyone, but I support our chief in this decision.”
Pridgen joined the department in December 1992 and was assistant chief over the finance and personnel bureau. He was previously one of six finalists for the Fort Worth police chief position and, later, a finalist for the Corpus Christi police chief job.
“Ever since Fitzgerald got to Fort Worth, his arch nemesis has been Chief Pridgen because Pridgen was also a finalist for the job,” Schulte said. “Pridgen was there to help him. He wasn’t there to undermine his authority.”
Keyes joined the police department in 2000 and was over operational command, which included the training division, professional standards, the communications division and quality assurance.
The investigation into Pridgen and Keyes has led to backlash from some in the black community against Fitzgerald, the city’s first black chief.
Supporters of Pridgen and Keyes have suggested that they were unfairly targeted because they are black. At a city council meeting this month, the supporters demanded that the investigation be completed and that Pridgen and Keyes be put back to work.
Craig and her family were among the supporters at the council meeting this month and they were outside police headquarters Friday.
“This is yet another slap in the face,” said Rod Smith, Craig’s cousin, who was speaking for the family. “You told us in December that you would do the right thing. However, you have continued to fail to do just that. We are mad as hell.”
This report contains information from the Star-Telegram archives