Fort Worth

Judge grants restraining order preventing Fort Worth from hiring new police chief

Lawyer stops the city from hiring a new Fort Worth police chief

The lawyer for fired Fort Worth TX police chief Joel Fitzgerald persuades judge to stop city from hiring a new permanent chief, arguing it would violate city charter and thwart a remedy if his whistleblower lawsuit succeeds.
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The lawyer for fired Fort Worth TX police chief Joel Fitzgerald persuades judge to stop city from hiring a new permanent chief, arguing it would violate city charter and thwart a remedy if his whistleblower lawsuit succeeds.

A state district judge on Friday prohibited the city of Fort Worth from hiring a new police chief for the next 14 days.

The judge, Gena Slaughter, scheduled an Aug. 1 hearing during which the city will be able to mount an objection to a longer delay. The temporary restraining order granted by the judge will not prevent the city from interviewing candidates, though for the next two weeks, no one can be hired for the position.

That hearing will include testimony from police officials who witnessed the Washington, D.C., incident that city administrators say triggered former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald’s firing, as well as provide a public hearing for the chief to partially present his grievances about the way his termination was handled, according to his attorney, Stephen Kennedy.

Fitzgerald sought the temporary restraining order so he could make a case for indefinitely delaying the hiring of a new chief.

Kennedy wrote in a letter to the presiding judge that city officials have stated that they can hire or fire a police chief at will, which Kennedy asserts is a violation of the Fort Worth city charter.

Kennedy also asserted that Fitzgerald was fired because he discovered the city made up evidence of its compliance with federal Criminal Justice Information System regulations and destroyed information relevant to his investigation. Kennedy also is representing Fitzgerald in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the city.

Kennedy sent a letter to Fort Worth City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider last week demanding a hearing for Fitzgerald to contest his termination.

The city denied the request, so Kennedy wrote a second letter Thursday and filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction, unless the city immediately agreed to a hearing within 30 days.

Kennedy maintains that under Fort Worth’s city charter, only the city manager can fire a director and the director is entitled to a public hearing before the decision to terminate is finalized. Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa terminated Fitzgerald, not City Manager David Cooke, in violation of this policy, Kennedy argues.

The city has stood by its decision to fire Fitzgerald. In a termination memo in May, Chapa references several examples of Fitzgerald’s “increasing lack of good judgment.”

“The judge granted the TRO prohibiting the city from hiring a police chief other than in an interim capacity for a period of 14 days,” the city attorney’s office said in a statement after Friday’s ruling. “The temporary injunction hearing is set for August 1st. The city will continue to vigorously defend against the claims made by Joel Fitzgerald.”

The attorney representing the city, Christopher Troutt, told the judge that if any applicant for the police chief position discovers that it is clouded by an injunction, then they would likely never apply. Troutt also argued that if the court ever ordered that Fitzgerald be reinstated, then any person occupying the police chief position would have to vacate the position.

Troutt will have another chance to buttress those claims during the August hearing.

Ed Kraus has been serving as interim chief since Fitzgerald was fired in May.

The firing comes weeks after Fitzgerald was kicked out of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and days after he had a heated encounter with the state union’s president in Washington, D.C.

This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
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