Fort Worth

Police association seeks cease-and-desist order against chief

Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald speaks during a press conference earlier this month. He declined to comment to the Star-Telegram on Wednesday.
Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald speaks during a press conference earlier this month. He declined to comment to the Star-Telegram on Wednesday. Star-Telegram archives

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association is calling on the city to issue a “cease-and-desist” order against Chief Joel Fitzgerald and his command staff for what they call “bullying and intimidation tactics.”

The request was made Thursday in a letter sent to City Manager David Cooke and Civil Service Director Brian Dickerson, stemming from a grievance filed last month by the FWPOA alleging police contract violations and retaliation by two police administrators.

The grievance alleges that Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes ordered subordinates in the department’s Background Unit to break the rules to allow four unqualified police officers into the most recent Lateral Entry Officer academy class.

When the subordinates raised concerns about potential police contract violations, they were transferred in retaliation, the grievance alleges.

Since the grievance was filed, the association alleges Fitzgerald met one-on-one with members of the Background Unit on Oct. 4 and “attempted to intimidate them in to agreeing with his actions.”

They also allege that, in an Oct. 11 meeting with the Background Unit, the chief and members of his command staff became “very hostile” about the filed grievance and disparaged the association and the two transferred officers.

The FWPOA dubbed the actions as “retaliatory, disparaging and intimidating” to the association and officers in the Background Unit and asked the city to issue a cease-and-desist order against the chief and his command staff.

“I think, quite honestly, they’re acting like schoolyard bullies, using intimidation tactics against against members of the department that were involved in conducting the background investigations on the LEO #5 class,” said Terry Daffron, an attorney representing the FWPOA.

Rick Van Houten, the FWPOA president, said Wednesday that the chief’s failure to cease the “intimidating and hostile actions” forced the association’s hand in taking the next step and addressing the matter with the city manager.

“It is the function of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association to protect our officers from hostile, intimidating work environments,” Van Houten said.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, a police spokesman said that the grievance is still under review and that the department is working to provide a response within the allocated time frame allowed under the meet-and-confer agreement.

“It would be imprudent to retort the POA’s allegations in a public forum,” the statement read. “However, according to command staff, there are factual inaccuracies contained in the grievance and, as part of the formal process, the city intends to address each claim. As an aside, the Fort Worth Police Department has had great success over the past year, having significantly moved this department forward, and we will continue to do so for our officers and the citizens we serve.”

Chief’s grievance response

The LEO program allows certified police officers working at other police departments to join the Fort Worth Police Department at pay commensurate with experienced officers.

At issue is that some of the applicants in the latest LEO academy class did not have a required current intermediate peace officer certificate, nor did they meet the criteria for such a certificate at the time of application.

Another applicant was allowed to start the training class despite not successfully passing a polygraph test, the FWPOA states.

In a Nov. 3 letter responding to the grievance, Fitzgerald wrote that the department takes the position that the intermediate certification requirement could be met at any time before completion of the training academy.

He states that he allowed an LEO applicant who had an “inconclusive” polygraph result to be allowed entry into the LEO without submitting to a second polygraph after reviewing the circumstances.

“In my experience, an ‘inconclusive’ polygraph result is not an indication of deception, nor is it considered to be a ‘failed’ polygraph examination,” he wrote.

Daffron said the polygraph requirement was put in place by Human Resources and was included in the job posting.

“Where does a chief get the power to unilaterally decide that doesn’t apply to one applicant when it did to all the others?” she said.

The chief wrote that, after meeting with the Background Unit, he agreed to eliminate required polygraphs for future officers entering the LEO program. He argued that nowhere in the hiring process outlined in the meet-and-confer agreement does it require LEO applicants be given a polygraph.

“Therefore, whether or not to require a polygraph is a decision left to the discretion of the Chief,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The association called it “absurd” not to require applicants to take polygraphs and argues that the chief does not have the authority to make such a change.

“It is a well-accepted and established practice that all background investigations for a law enforcement officer include successfully passing a polygraph examination,” their Nov. 10 letter states. “The very foundation of law enforcement is one built on trust.”

Retaliation claims

The FWPOA alleged in their grievance that Lt. William Hix and Sgt. S. Rhoden were retaliated against after raising concerns about possible contract violations by being moved from the Background Unit.

The association also alleges that a third officer, Marshall Meyer, was also transferred after he spoke out during an Oct. 11 meeting among the chief and some members of the command staff and the background unit.

“Marshal made the mistake of standing up to the chief,” Daffron said.

Fitzgerald wrote that Rhoden and Hicks have filed grievances with the Human Resources Department, which he called the “appropriate forum” to investigate and address their retaliation claims.

“Simply stated, these transfers and reassignments are not actions for which the POA can file a grievance,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The association countered that the three transfers violated the contract because they “were retaliatory in nature and done in ‘bad faith’ on the part of the Chief and Command Staff.”

The FWPOA also raised concerns in their letter that statements were allegedly made during an Oct. 11 meeting by command staff members that the next LEO class would be filled only with minority officers.

The association says such a move would violate federal and state law as well as the non-discrimination clause of the police contract.

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd

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