Fort Worth

Fired Fort Worth police sergeant had 'no basis' to arrest woman, chief says

A 22-year Fort Worth police veteran was fired this week because he wrongfully arrested a woman in August and used "unreasonable force" to take her into custody, according to a charging letter released by the Police Department on Tuesday.

Sgt. Kenneth Pierce had instructed a rookie officer to use a Taser on Dorshay Morris, 29, during the incident outside her apartment in east Fort Worth.

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald announced Pierce's firing on Monday, saying in a statement that Pierce became "impatient" and "initiated an unnecessary physical confrontation" with Morris.

The specific charges against Pierce revealed in the letter Tuesday were neglect of duty, failure to supervise and violating the department's use-of-force policy.

Pierce's attorney, Terry Daffron, and Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, criticized the chief's decision in a news conference Tuesday.

Fitzgerald "got this one wrong," Van Houten said, adding that the "facts of this case do not add up to a termination" for Pierce.

Van Houten and Daffron also released the 911 call that led to the arrest as well as a report filed by the Police Department's use-of-force expert, who said Pierce's behavior was "well within the FWPD Use of Force policy and falls in line with what is commonly taught to both recruits and incumbents."

Cpl. Chancey Pogue, the use-of-force expert, said he "did not see any force option or control tactic used" by Pierce and the officer who used the Taser on Morris that would have violated department policy.

However, an Internal Affairs investigation concluded that "there was no basis for the initial arrest; therefore, any force used to apply handcuffs was unreasonable," the charging letter said.

Capt. Michael Shedd, according to the letter, requested an Internal Affairs investigation as he suspected that Pierce "may have misrepresented facts in his report narrative for the purpose of creating probable cause to support the arrest" of Morris.

Morris was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.

During the police association press conference Tuesday, Daffron released the woman's 911 call as well as the call details that officers received.

Morris told a dispatcher that her boyfriend was damaging her car and that she was going to stab him to "defend myself."

However, Pierce and rookie officer M. Bayona -- whose involvement is still under investigation -- only received information that Morris was threatening to stab her boyfriend, Daffron said. The call details did not indicate the threats were being made out of self-defense.

"It's never stated that she is defending herself," Daffron said. "It's stated that she is going to stab somebody."

One year since Craig incident

Daffron and Van Houten also questioned the timing of Pierce's firing.

Fitzgerald announced the firing in a statement Monday evening that was accompanied by video from Bayona's bodycam. The statement said the arrest was "eerily reminiscent" of the arrest of Jacqueline Craig one year ago, which resulted in officer William Martin receiving a 10-day suspension for excessive force.

Video of that incident, on Dec. 21, 2016, went viral and became a national story. Martin, who is white, arrested Craig and her daughters, who are black, after Craig had called the police for help in a dispute with a neighbor.

Last week, the city of Fort Worth told Craig that it will not pay damages in claims she filed against the city over her arrest, which for months caused outcry in the city's black community. The claims are likely headed to federal court.

Daffron, who represented Martin in the Craig case, said the timing of Pierce's firing -- nearly one year to the day since Craig's incident -- was not a coincidence.

"It was a calculated move by the chief," Daffron said.

Van Houten said Pierce's firing will have "a chilling effect" on other officers and make them hesitant to do their jobs.

The police association in September released results of a survey citing low morale and confidence in Fitzgerald. The survey was a result of the "inconsistencies coming out of this administration," Van Houten said Tuesday. Pierce's firing "compounds the issue."

Police supervisors conducting a mandatory use-of-force review discovered the incident, the statement said, which took place in August, after a woman later identified in reports as Morris called for assistance regarding a domestic disturbance.

She was cooperating, Fitzgerald said in the news release, when Pierce took action. “I’m confident that everyone who sees this video, including members of this department, will agree this supervisor’s response and subsequent behaviors are absolutely unacceptable,” Fitzgerald said in the release.

Morris 'evasive and upset'

The Star-Telegram obtained the police report from the incident, which includes accounts from Pierce and Bayona.

After police arrived, Morris's boyfriend was taken into custody for public intoxication.

Officers then contacted Morris, "who was acting evasive and upset when asking her details about the argument," Bayona wrote.

When police asked Morris if she had a knife, she was "uncooperative and refusing to provide me with details," Bayona wrote.

Bayona "attempted to detain her with handcuffs, but she refused and pulled away from me," the report said.

Morris then refused to provide Bayona with identification but later confirmed that she had a knife in her purse, according to the report.

Bayona took Morris's purse and handed it to Pierce, who had arrived at the scene after Bayona. After Bayona checked inside Morris' apartment to make sure her daughter was not hurt, the woman asked for her purse back, the police report said.

Bayona then tried to handcuff Morris, but she "aggressively pulled away," the police report said. Around the same time, Pierce also grabbed Morris' left wrist and tried to put it behind her back, he wrote in the police report.

Morris "immediately began to pull away from me in an attempt to break the grip," Pierce wrote. He then "delivered one strike toward the brachial plexas area" of Morris' neck, Pierce wrote.

The video does not clearly show Pierce striking Morris but he does appear to place his hands near her neck.

Pierce then tried to grab Morris by her arm and then her head, pinning her against a wall.

Pierce told Bayona to use a Taser on Morris after he noticed that she had been partially handcuffed.

"This concerned me as this was now a solid piece of metal attached to a resisting suspect which could have severely injured either Officer Bayona or myself," Pierce wrote in his report.

Pierce, by pulling Morris by her hair and head, properly used a "front take down," a move approved and taught by the department, according to Pogue, the department use-of-force expert.

After Morris, who was partially handcuffed, broke away from Bayona, Pierce was put "in a much more vulnerable position of being struck by Morris," Pogue wrote in his report.

As a result, Pierce told Bayona to use her Taser on Morris, a force option that was "necessary and warranted in order to gain control," Pogue wrote.

Charges dropped against Morris

Morris, at home Tuesday afternoon, said she was in the Mansfield Jail for days before she was released.

“I sat in jail for five days and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon,” she said. “But they dropped the charges and let me go. I’ve been trying to get an attorney since then.”

Fort Worth police spokeswoman Paula Fimbres said in an email that Morris was released from jail on the aggravated assault and resisting arrest charges on Aug. 16, which would total three days.

“However, she had traffic warrants from other agencies,” said Fimbres. “So, she might have been in jail longer while her warrants were cleared with those agencies.”

Morris was not injured during her arrest, according to the incident report.

She said she was pleased to hear of Pierce's firing and would like to see Bayona fired as well.

Morris says she plans to formally release a statement through her attorney later.

This story contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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