Fort Worth

Craig family files federal lawsuit against Fort Worth saying police used excessive force

Two views of Jacqueline Craig’s arrest: See the bodycam and cell phone videos side-by-side

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
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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

A black family who says they were brutally arrested by a white police officer a year ago filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging that their constitutional rights were violated during the arrest.

The lawsuit accuses the arresting officer, William Martin, of using excessive force and alleges that Fort Worth policymakers — specifically Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council — in general failed to supervise or discipline officers who used excessive force and failed to try to identify those officers.

"Defendant Martin consciously disregarded the rights of Plaintiffs, knowing that policymakers would approve or ratify his actions," the lawsuit states.

A video of the arrest that garnered more than 5 million views triggered protests in the city and calls for Martin and Fitzgerald to be fired.

The lawsuit asks for money damages but does not specify an amount.

Itamar Vardi, the neighbor who the family said assaulted Jacqueline Craig's 8-year-old son, is also named in the lawsuit. Vardi allegedly grabbed the boy by his arm and then by the back of the neck, pushing him to the ground and spraining his cervical spine, because the child refused to pick up some raisins he dropped in Vardi's yard, according to the lawsuit.

Police officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday.

Martin responded to Craig's call for police assistance. The lawsuit describes how she and the officer became involved in a heated exchange that ended up with Craig and her 15-year-old daughter being forced to the ground and placed in handcuffs, all while a Taser was pointed at them.

Martin then handcuffed Craig's relative, Brea Hymond, who was recording the arrest on her cellphone, and pulled her arms above her head in a way that is designed to cause pain, the lawsuit states.

Craig and her daughters faced various charges, which were dropped soon after the arrest.

Martin had been charged with misuse of force against African-Americans before, the lawsuit states. On Aug. 6, 2013, Martin fired his Taser at two males running at Dunbar High School, according to the lawsuit. When that incident was evaluated, a police supervisor noted that officers must confirm that suspects are armed before they deploy a Taser, the lawsuit said.

Martin received a 10-day suspension in that case, according to the lawsuit. Martin also was given a 10-day suspension for his actions in the Craig arrest and his appeal of the decision was denied.

Martin violated the Craig family's right to record police activity, which has been supported in recent court rulings, said the family's attorney, Lee Merritt.

Martin also had no probable cause to make an arrest and illegally assaulted Craig family members during the arrest, the lawsuit states. No one was engaged in any criminal behavior at the time, making Martin's actions unreasonable and unlawful, according to the lawsuit.

Martin's use of force was within "custom, practice and/or procedure" of the Fort Worth Police Department at the time of the incident, the lawsuit alleges.

During a protest on Thursday, on the one-year anniversary of the arrest, Merritt said that members of the Fort Worth Police Officer's Association supported the idea that Martin acted consistently with police department policy on use of force.

"My concern is their policies and practices are not consistent with the Constitution and that is something that has to be worked out in court," Merritt said.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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