Fort Worth

Demoted officer: Fort Worth chief’s allegations ‘grossly inaccurate’

Demoted Fort Worth police officer criticizes chief

Capt. Vance Keyes, demoted Friday from deputy chief, criticizes Chief Joel Fitzgerald for what he said he believes is too severe a punishment.
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Capt. Vance Keyes, demoted Friday from deputy chief, criticizes Chief Joel Fitzgerald for what he said he believes is too severe a punishment.

Demoted Fort Worth police officer Vance Keyes on Monday denied not cooperating with a department investigation into the leak of an officer’s bodycam video and personnel file and harshly criticized Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald for punishing him and Abdul Pridgen, another high-ranking police official.

“Chief Fitzgerald is more concerned with political capital and upward mobility than with the welfare of the community,” said Keyes, who was demoted Friday from deputy chief to the rank of captain and suspended for three days. “I must respect his official position, but I no longer respect his judgment.”

Keyes was speaking at a news conference at Beth Eden Baptist Church in east Fort Worth, where several leaders of the black community gathered to call for the firing of Fitzgerald, the city’s first black police chief. Fitzgerald’s critics have said that Keyes and Pridgen were unfairly targeted in the investigation because they are black.

“We are calling on the city to send Fitzgerald packing,” said Pastor Michael Bell of Greater St. Stephen First Church. “He should be fired today.”

Fitzgerald “has failed to do his part in uniting this city,” said Pastor B.R. Daniels Jr., of First Greater New Hope Baptist Church.

Fitzgerald declined to comment on Monday’s news conference.

“In the interest of respecting the officers’ rights to due process in this investigation, we are unable to discuss the particular facts in this case,” officer Brad Perez, police spokesman, said in a statement.

The personnel file and bodycam video at issue were those of officer William Martin, whose questionable behavior and arrests Dec. 21 of Fort Worth resident Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters 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 bodycam video to The Associated Press. He said at the time he received the footage from a trusted source.

Bodycam footage and cell phone video show the controversial arrest of a Fort Worth mother and her daughters after she called police to deal with a neighbor who had allegedly put his hands around her 7-year-old son's neck. Officer William Martin wa

Fitzgerald on Friday said evidence from the internal investigation showed that Martin’s confidential files were downloaded 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.”

Pridgen’s attorney Pete Schulte on Friday said Pridgen downloaded the files because the chief had asked him to prepare an information packet on the incident.

Keyes on Monday said he had no knowledge of Pridgen downloading any files on that day. He might have been in Pridgen’s office, Keyes said, but he was in Pridgen’s office upward of 10 times a day.

‘Where is the administrative violation in that?’

Keyes also addressed Fitzgerald’s other allegations, namely that Keyes “was not candid and forthcoming” to internal affairs investigators.

“There is no such thing as partial cooperation in an administrative investigation,” Keyes said. “You either answer the questions or you don’t. I answered the questions to the best of my ability.”

Fitzgerald, in a letter to the Civil Service Commission explaining why Keyes should be suspended three days, alleged that Keyes denied texting Pridgen about Martin. Phone records showed that Pridgen and Keyes texted about Martin several times in January, before the confidential information was leaked.

But Keyes on Monday said Fitzgerald’s claim in the letter was “grossly inaccurate and taken out of context.”

He said he denied texting Pridgen about the Martin incident after the leak occurred but acknowledged to investigators that he and Pridgen texted about the incident “ad nauseam” before then.

The texts “simply referenced disparate treatment minorities have received,” Keyes said. “Where is the administrative violation in that?”

‘I didn’t do anything’

Fitzgerald’s letter also said Keyes contacted Merritt, one of Craig’s attorneys, “numerous times” on his personal cellphone, and then did not provide his cellphone for analysis to investigators.

Keyes said he was contacting Merritt because Fitzgerald had appointed him as the “departmental liaison” to Merritt.

Keyes said he offered to have his personal cellphone searched but only if investigators allowed him to record them as they did so. He said he also offered to take a polygraph test.

“Neither offer was accepted,” Keyes said. “The department didn’t want to pursue anything exculpatory but only cast suspicion and doubt.”

Keyes’ third contention with Fitzgerald’s letter was an allegation that he lied about having an iCloud storage account.

When investigators asked if any of Keyes’ text messages or call logs could be stored on his iCloud account, Keyes denied knowing what iCloud was, Fitzgerald alleged. But in the same interview with investigators, Keyes logged into his iCloud account.

Keyes said he logged into the account after being directed to the iCloud website and “after multiple attempts using recycled passwords.”

Fitzgerald in January said whoever leaked the video would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent.” On Friday, he left open the possibility of criminal charges being pursued.

“If you have criminal charges, bring them on,” Keyes said Monday. “I didn’t do anything. I welcome any further inquiry into my activity.”

Keyes joined the department in 2000 and was over operational command, which included the training division, professional standards, the communications division and quality assurance.

He can’t appeal the demotion, since deputy chief is an appointed position, but he plans to appeal the three-day suspension, which began Monday. The Civil Service Commission can approve, deny or modify suspensions, awarding officers back pay if their suspensions are found to be too long.

Keyes said he has not been informed where he’ll report to work on Thursday.