Fort Worth

Demoted Fort Worth police officials sue city, allege chief was hostile

Abdul Pridgen, left, and Vance Keyes were demoted from the police command staff in May.
Abdul Pridgen, left, and Vance Keyes were demoted from the police command staff in May. Star-Telegram archives

Two former high-ranking Fort Worth police officials who were demoted after they were accused of leaking bodycam video of a viral arrest, have sued the city, alleging police Chief Joel Fitzgerald "expressed hostility" toward them for reporting the officer used excessive force in the arrest.

Capt. Abdul Pridgen, a former assistant chief, and Capt. Vance Keyes, a former deputy chief, each filed a lawsuit in Dallas County district court this month, seeking reinstatement to their former positions and recovery of lost wages.

The Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The lawsuits said Pridgen and Keyes made "good faith reports" that officer William Martin used excessive force and "improper racial motivations" in his arrest of Fort Worth resident Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters on Dec. 21.

In return, Pridgen and Keyes alleged in the lawsuit, they were met with hostility from Fitzgerald.

"There's a big institutional racism problem in the city of Fort Worth that goes to the top and our clients were fighting that," attorneys Jason Smith and Zoe Courtney, who are representing Pridgen and Keyes in the lawsuits, said in a statement Friday. "We hope to shine a light on the truth on how the city of Fort Worth mishandled the situation."

Martin, whose questionable behavior and arrests of Craig and her daughters led to widespread criticism of him and the Police Department, was suspended for 10 days by Fitzgerald.

Martin is white and the women are black.

Lee Merritt, one of Craig’s attorneys, provided the documents and bodycam video of the arrests to The Associated Press. He said at the time he received the footage from a “trusted source.”

In May, Fitzgerald demoted Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes to captain, accusing them of the leaks. The demotions to captain were automatic, because assistant chief and deputy chief are appointed positions.

Fitzgerald also decided to further demote Pridgen to sergeant, but that was rejected by the Civil Service Commission.

Fitzgerald said evidence from the internal investigation showed that Martin’s confidential files were downloaded on Jan. 18 to an external storage device connected to Pridgen’s computer and that Keyes was in Pridgen’s office when that happened.

The same files, Fitzgerald said, were uploaded to a public website “by someone outside of the Police Department.”

“Both of these men were in the chain of command that oversees the internal affairs section and had a duty to protect those sensitive files,” Fitzgerald said. “Every Fort Worth police officer has an obligation to be truthful and trustworthy.”

Fitzgerald said neither Pridgen nor Keyes fully cooperated during the internal investigation.

“Both of these men knew more than they disclosed to investigators,” Fitzgerald said.

Ryan Osborne: 817-390-7684; Twitter: @RyanOsborneFWST