Fort Worth

Sources: Officer in viral video gave up promotion for right to appeal suspension

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald and Mayor Betsy Price answered questions at a community meeting last week.
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald and Mayor Betsy Price answered questions at a community meeting last week.

The white police officer accused of using excessive force during his arrest of a black woman and her two daughters could have been promoted to corporal if he would have agreed to a seven-day suspension and waived his right to appeal, according to his attorney and a letter to members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association from its president.

But because of the excessive-force allegation and the fact that the Tarrant County district attorney’s office has said it plans to present the entire incident to a grand jury, officer William Martin felt he had to choose a 10-day suspension, his attorney, Terry Daffron, said. The decision allows him to appeal the discipline but means he will be bypassed for promotion.

The Dec. 21 incident was caught on a cellphone video that went viral on social media, prompting a stream of criticism against Martin and police that has led to organized protests and community meetings.

The offer was presented to Martin by Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald on the morning of Jan. 9 during negotiations that lasted about 3  1/2 hours, said Daffron, who works for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

Daffron said she communicated with the chief through her client and the city attorney because she was legally prohibited from doing so directly.

“One of the things that troubled Martin and myself was that the police department’s use-of-force expert did not did not find any use-of-force violations,” she said Sunday. “By him taking the offer, especially with him facing a grand jury, the excessive-force allegation is something that could have been used against him.”

“Martin was apologetic about the rudeness. … He understood and appreciated that,” she said. “But it was the excessive-force allegation that he could not agree with. In his mind he did not use excessive force. And it was made clear to the chief that was the deal-breaker and if that had been removed all this could have gone away.”

The Jan. 9 letter to FWPOA members, a copy of which was obtained by the Star-Telegram, states that Fitzgerald is not “authorized to make such an offer” under state law or under the meet-and-confer labor agreement between the FWPOA and the city.

Daffron further clarified that, saying, “The only time a chief can make such an offer is in lieu of termination or in a suspension greater than 15 days.”

A Fort Worth police spokesman declined to discuss the issues outlined in the letter.

“Discussions in private meetings between the Chief and Ofc. Martin are not public unless they want to make it public,” said Sgt. Marcus Povero, Fort Worth police spokesman, in an emailed statement. “The Chief has not indicated that he wants to share what was discussed.”

Fitzgerald, hired in September 2015, is Fort Worth’s first black police chief.

‘Watch each others’ backs’

On Sunday, Sgt. Rick Van Houten, president of the FWPOA, said the letter “was an internal communication between the president of the FWPOA and its membership.” He declined to comment on the letter’s contents, only saying that it speaks for itself.

The letter, written by Van Houten, states that “the purpose of this communication is to address the many concerns that the FWPOA has with the Office Martin discipline case and the aberrant way in which it has been handled.”

The letter says that “FWPOA will continue to strongly advocate for Officer Martin in this case” and encourages “all officers to continue to provide the citizens of Fort Worth the very best of service in the professional manner we are known for.”

It ends by stating, “Be diligent in using your body worn cameras. … It may save your career one day and might be the only evidence available that tells the truth when malicious complaints are lodged.

“Stay safe and watch each others’ backs.”

In contrast to the FWPOA letter, the Fort Worth Black Law Enforcement Officers Association posted a letter on its Facebook page Saturday offering support for Fitzgerald, saying he administered “a fair and transparent investigation of the latest police involved incident” while suggesting he could have done more.

Fitzgerald held a news conference on the afternoon of Jan. 9 announcing that Martin had been suspended for 10 days and calling it “significant punishment.”

But supporters of the family involved in the incident were critical of the discipline, saying Martin should have been fired.

Fitzgerald explained that Martin was “contrite” and “sorry” about the incident, and that some members of his staff felt he should have been more lenient with his discipline.

“But the buck stops here,” Fitzgerald said.

The letter from the black officers association states that “the disciplinary actions issued not only perpetrates negative stereotypes of the police, it jeopardizes existing relationships and efforts with the minority community.

“FWBLEOA also believes the discipline imposed by Chief Fitzgerald was not remotely close to being heavy handed. Overall, we are disappointed with the disciplinary results but understand there was much to be considered with the Chief’s final decision.”

Cases remain under review

Martin had responded to a call of a possible assault at a residence in southwest Fort Worth on the afternoon of Dec. 21.

Jacqueline Craig, 46, had called police to report that she suspected that her neighbor, an adult male, had assaulted her 7-year-old son because he dropped some raisins in his yard and refused to pick them up.

Brea Hymond, Craig’s 19-year-old daughter, was shooting video when Martin asked Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”

Craig replied that it doesn’t matter if her son littered or not, that it doesn’t give “him the right to put his hands on him.”

Martin replied: “Why not?”

Craig’s 15-year-daughter, Jacques Craig, stepped in between the Martin and Craig, and the situation quickly escalated. Martin grabbed the 15-year-old from behind and profanities were screamed by the women at the scene. Martin then pulled and pointed his Taser at Craig and Jacques Craig before wrestling them to the ground.

Craig and Hymond were arrested and taken to jail and the younger daughter to a juvenile detention center.

Craig and her older daughter face charges of interference with public duties, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failing to provide identification, police said. Jacques Craig has been accused of interference with public duties, police said.

The case against Craig and her daughter, and the case involving the resident accused by the family of assaulting Craig’s 7-year-old son, will be reviewed by the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, police have said.

Activists call for boycott

The incident gained national interest after Craig’s niece, Porsha Craver, posted an edited version of the video on Facebook, setting off a flurry of comments, mostly criticizing the officer for his actions.

At his news conference, Fitzgerald said Martin showed neglect of duty and discourtesy.

“Officer Martin violated state and departmental rules and policies by using excessive force, being disrespectful, and failing to thoroughly investigate a criminal offense,” said the disciplinary letter Fitzgerald sent to the Fort Worth Civil Service Commission.

Before Martin returns to duty he will be required to undergo more training, Fitzgerald said.

If Martin’s punishment is reduced in arbitration, he will receive compensation for the days he was suspended.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Craig family, said in a Facebook video that “the Police Department has failed the city of Fort Worth and the people of Fort Worth. They sent a clear message out to the African-American community and the world community. And I don’t care how many black faces they put in uniform, they put a message out that our lives are less valuable.”

Religious and civil rights activists also criticized the department and city and have called for residents to boycott events in Fort Worth.

Merritt said that includes the Fort Worth Stock Show and Monday’s Cowboys of Color Rodeo, which is held in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We are not supporting that event or any event in the city of Fort Worth until the city meets our demands,” Merritt said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3