FW Police chief: ‘I should have gone higher’ with officer’s suspension in Craig arrest
While acknowledging there is a “significant decline in morale” among the ranks of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, its board is urging members to refrain from calling for a vote of no-confidence against Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald.
The letter, which was obtained by the Star-Telegram, details a litany of grievances against the embattled chief, who in recent weeks has been criticized for demoting two high-ranking administrators in connection with the leaking of a controversial arrest video and most recently, the firing of an officer who shot and wounded a man who was holding a barbecue fork.
Officer Courtney Johnson went to trial on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant in the shooting of Craigory Adams on June 23, 2015, but the charges were dropped after a mistrial.
Fitzgerald, saying Johnson’s “actions were careless,” fired the officer.
“It is unnerving to know you could be the next officer thrown under the bus for political expedience,” the letter stated.
While questioning Fitzgerald’s ability to lead the more than 1,600 police officers in the department, the FWPOA’s board of directors urged members against calling for a vote of no-confidence, which the letter describes as an “outdated tactic with no political purpose which rarely ends in the desired result.”
The letter notes that a no-confidence vote would also place elected officials in a “precarious position.”
However, the board said if members chose to go that route, the “Board of Directors will comply.”
Rick Van Houten, FWPOA president, said the letter was an internal communication among the board and its membership.
Van Houten said the letter speaks for itself and declined to comment further.
Mayor Betsy Price was out of state and could not be reached for comment, according to a city staff member. Fitzgerald sent an email respectfully declining to comment on the letter.
The Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, Fort Worth chapter, also declined comment.
The Martin case
Fitzgerald, who was hired in 2015 and is Fort Worth’s first black police chief, has been mired in controversy since December, after officer William Martin was caught on videotape making rude and inappropriate comments during the arrests of Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters.
Craig, who is black, had called 911, saying her young son had been accused of littering and assaulted by a neighbor. When Martin arrived at the scene, the situation between him and Craig soon escalated. He asked her, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”
When one of Craig’s daughters stepped between Martin and Craig, Martin pinned them both to the ground and handcuffed them. He then arrested Craig’s other daughter, who was videotaping the altercation.
The decision to suspend Martin 10 days was met with mixed reaction in the community.
Many in the law enforcement ranks said the punishment was too harsh, while those supporting Craig — including African-American leaders — demanded that Martin be fired.
Martin appealed his suspension, which he already served.
The incident spurred protests, and racial tension continues to linger to the point that the City Council this week formed a task force on race and culture that is charged with finding solutions to the ongoing issue.
Connected to the Martin incident was the leaking of the officer’s body cam video. Former Assistant Police Chief Abdul Pridgen and former Deputy Chief Vance Keyes were demoted after Fitzgerald accused them of leaking Martin’s confidential documents, including the video.
Johnson was fired after he weathered a weeklong trial that could have sent him to prison for life had he been convicted. A two-count indictment accused Johnson of taking his shotgun off safety and sliding the pump action back, then forward as it was pointed toward Adams. The shotgun fired, hitting Adams in the arm. The officer has said he thought Adams was holding a knife, but it was actually a barbecue fork.
After a mistrial was declared because of a hung jury, Fitzgerald said Johnson was reckless and later fired him.
“We believe the firing of Officer Johnson was politically motivated and the goal was to appease certain political groups in the aftermath of the Officer Martin appeal hearing,” the letter said. “The delay in posting the Sergeant’s promotional test was likely motivated by a desire to not deal with Officer Martin’s promotion.”
The letter says the board is “beyond disappointed with the inconsistent discipline and political meddling in internal investigations under Fitzgerald’s administration.”
“From the mishandling of the Officer Martin investigation to the indefinite suspension of Officer Courtney Johnson; the political intervention in the body camera leak investigation; to the unorthodox delays in creating promotional lists; where does this end?” the letter states.
“It is our mission to ensure that the officers of this department are aware of the facts,” the letter states. “The truth will set us free.”
The next meeting of the FWPOA is July 13.
This article contains information from Star-Telegram archives.