After deliberating for two days, a jury reported Friday afternoon that it could not reach a verdict in the case of a former Fort Worth firefighter who was accused of punching an elderly Arlington man at a TCU spring football game last year.
State district Judge Mollee Westfall declared a mistrial in the case of Shea O’Neill, 43, who was charged with injury to the elderly, a first-degree felony punishable by a maximum life prison sentence.
“They tell me they are not going to re-try it again,” said Jim Shaw, who represented O’Neill in the case.
O’Neill was fired after he was arrested in the incident, which occurred April 10, 2015, at Amon Carter Stadium at TCU.
The Fort Worth Fire Department said in a statement Friday that the mistrial will have no bearing on O’Neill’s termination.
“Former Fort Worth Firefighter Shea O’Neill was indefinitely suspended by the Fort Worth Fire Department on July 23, 2015, after an administrative investigation,” the statement said. “While the Fort Worth Fire Department respects the criminal justice system, the results of the trial do not affect the decision to indefinitely suspend Shea O’Neill.”
O’Neill and James Woods, 79, had a heated exchange about three children with O’Neill playing on the railing in front of Woods and his wife. The argument ended when O’Neill punched Woods.
O’Neill is at least 3 inches taller than Woods and weighs about 185 pounds, according to his attorney.
Woods testified Tuesday that his 71-year-old wife, Patsy, repeatedly and politely asked the children to move or quiet down. They ignored her.
Woods said he then called out to the children. O’Neill responded, and an exchange of harsh words followed. When Woods looked over his right shoulder toward O’Neill, he said, he was suddenly knocked out of his seat. Woods got a bloody nose, several damaged teeth and facial bruising.
According to a statement O’Neill made to police investigators, Woods and his wife were harassing his children. O’Neill’s statement said that Patsy Woods grabbed one of the children by his shirt and violently jerked him toward her. O’Neill was trying to get his children away from the couple when he was surrounded by spectators.
Woods yelled at O’Neill and then started to act like he was hurt, the statement said.
“I’m still going to get you, you son of a bitch,” Woods said, according to O’Neill’s statement.
O’Neill was the focus of at least two Fire Department internal affairs investigations.
One came after he was arrested in 2013 in Arkansas in the fatal stabbing of a 23-year-old man near Hot Springs. Investigators determined that O’Neill was the target of a robbery attempt and had acted in self-defense, and the internal investigation was dropped.
In June 2014, attorney Nancy Bonilla filed a formal complaint with the Fire Department about a confrontation with O’Neill in a parking lot shared by her gym and an insurance company where O’Neill works. She told the Star-Telegram that O’Neill was apparently upset because she had parked in front of his business, though there were no signs restricting parking in the common parking lot, she said.
“He was extremely angry,” Bonilla wrote in her complaint, a copy of which she gave to the Star-Telegram. “He was clenching his fists, baring his teeth even, and approaching me in a very aggressive and threatening manner. I was immediately afraid of this man. I was afraid for my physical safety. I thought he might attack me.”
Bonilla, whose husband has been a Fort Worth firefighter for 30 years, said O’Neill was wearing a Fire Department logo shirt and had Fire Department decals on his truck.
When he refused to move his truck to let her leave, Bonilla said in her complaint, she told him she would call Fire Chief Rudy Jackson about his behavior. He responded by cursing and telling her that neither she nor Jackson could do anything to him.
“I am extremely concerned that Mr. O’Neill will hurt someone if he is allowed to continue interacting with people this way,” she said in closing her complaint.
This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.