Fort Worth

Officer says ‘stupid question’ led to viral video incident that he wished ‘hadn’t happened’

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

The officer whose ill-advised comments and assertive arrests during a neighborhood police call thrust the department into the national spotlight, acknowledged to the police chief that he “asked a stupid question” and had other regrets about his handling of the incident.

“Ideally, I should have waited for an assist to start and separate them. I made a bad decision with my choice of words and ... all hell broke loose,” officer William A. Martin said during a meeting with Chief Joel Fitzgerald on Jan. 6.

“I hate all the media attention that went out there and made national news and makes the department look bad. It sucks. I wish it hadn’t happened,” Martin said.

Officer William Martin and Chief Joel Fitzgerald discuss the officer's handling of the Rock Garden Trail incident during a Jan. 6 meeting.

But he also said that other than asking the “stupid question,” “I don’t think I did anything wrong,” according to a recording of the meeting that was shared with the Star-Telegram by Martin’s attorney.

Martin was suspended for 10 days after an internal investigation found he had used excessive force and was disrespectful, among other allegations, during his handling of the Dec. 21 call that led to the arrests of Jacqueline Craig and two of her daughters.

Since then, there have been claims of injustice, threats of lawsuits and numerous protests.

The incident started when Itamar Vardi, a neighbor of Craig’s, called 911 on the afternoon of Dec. 21, reporting that someone had littered on his yard and that a group of people were now refusing to leave. One of Craig’s daughters, and then Craig, called 911 a short time later, accusing the neighbor of grabbing and choking Craig’s 7-year-old son.

After arriving on the scene, Martin was seen on video asking Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?”

Martin told the chief it was a “stupid question.”

“I have no idea why I asked her the question about not littering. It’s just something that popped in my head and came out and I shouldn’t have said it,” Martin said during the meeting.

He told Fitzgerald that when Craig commented that littering was not the issue, it doesn’t give the neighbor “the right to put his hands on him,” his response of “Why not?” was misunderstood.

“I was asking why it didn’t matter that he was littering,” Martin said. “That’s what started the whole thing, the allegation of littering.”

“This all got blown out of proportion with the internet video and the commentary that went along with it,” Martin explained. “Just a bad situation based on (a couple of people’s) actions and that stupid question I asked.”

Boy was interviewed by police

Martin said his goal all along was to stop the disturbance.

“The arrests did stop the disturbance. It took a little bit but it did stop the disturbance,” he said.

When asked by Fitzgerald if he thinks, in retrospect, that the disturbance might have been stopped with the initial conversation being directed toward the allegations involving the child, Martin answered, “Yeah.”

“That was my primary concern — investigating that — but it’s hard to do when people are yelling,” Martin later told the chief.

According to the internal affairs case, one of the assisting officers who responded to the scene, officer J. Nichols, did inquire about and made a report about the alleged assault against the boy. The alleged assault was later investigated by the department’s crimes against children unit.

Nichols interviewed the boy at the scene and he stated he was playing on the street corner and throwing raisins in the neighbor’s yard. The boy said the neighbor grabbed him by the back of the neck and pushed him toward the ground to pick up the trash, hurting him.

The boy and his sister informed the neighbor they were only throwing raisins, not trash, and then ran home. Asked if the neighbor had choked him, the boy said no, the report states.

Police recently cited Vardi for assault by contact, a Class C misdemeanor, and dropped charges against Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters.

‘You sort of hit her’

Among concerns expressed by the chief during the meeting was Martin’s contact with a woman who approached him as he was trying to put Craig and her 15-year-old daughter in the back of his patrol car.

“You sort of hit her and you didn’t make any note of it or didn’t do like a use of force (report) or anything on it,” Fitzgerald said. “So I had a concern with that. I also had a concern with when you lifted the girl’s hands up at an angle that would cause her some degree of pain; why you needed to do that?”

In the video, Martin tells a woman who approaches his car to get back or she would go to jail, too. When she replies, “I don’t care,” he appears to push her away.

Martin acknowledged that he pushed the woman. He said he should have mentioned it in his report, but that he didn’t think he had to do a use of force report because it wasn’t a hard open hand control and he knew it would be documented in the video.

Regarding lifting the handcuffed arms of Craig’s 19-year-old daughter, Brea Hymond, Martin described the maneuver as a “control technique.”

“I don’t remember where I learned it but it’s an effective one that I’ve learned is an excellent control technique,” he told the chief.

The department’s Control Tactics Coordinator, Cpl. J. Pogue reviewed Martin’s bodycam video. He said while the ideal scenario would have been for both parties to be separated and multiple officers to have been on the scene, he noted Martin was by himself.

Pogue found Martin’s decision to display his Taser was consistent with his training based on the circumstances he was facing and credited the officer for showing a lot of “restraint.”

‘That’s excessive force’

Pogue concluded that Martin’s arrest of Craig and her 15-year-old daughter were consistent with department training. He said while training does not specifically address putting someone in the back seat of a patrol car, he did not see any issues with Martin kicking or pushing the girl’s leg so that he could quickly close the door.

Pogue also found Hymond’s arrest was consistent with department training, stating Martin used “absolute minimal force” and that Hymond’s behavior “was consistent with a ‘precursor’ for launching an assault.”

However, Pogue told internal affairs investigators that it was not common practice to raise handcuffed arms up as high as Martin did with Hymond, an action that led the department to sustain the accusation of excessive force against the officer.

The excessive force finding was the sticking point behind Martin not agreeing to an initial offer made by the chief: A seven-day suspension with the understanding that Martin would not appeal.

Martin’s attorney, Terry Daffron, said Martin does not believe he used excessive force. Agreeing otherwise, she said, could have put him at risk when the case went before a Tarant County grand jury. But authorities have since decided that the case will not be presented to a grand jury.

In a Jan. 9 meeting with Martin, Fitzgerald defends the excessive force finding.

“... The bottom line is any force beyond that which is necessary to affect an arrest or control someone is excessive. And that’s excessive force. ...We have to own up to what happened here,” Fitzgerald said.

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd