Fort Worth

Court orders Fort Worth officials to face questions from fired police chief’s lawyer

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 court has ordered Fort Worth city officials to make themselves available for questioning by the attorney for fired Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is seeking reinstatement to his former position and claims his firing was in retaliation for conducting an investigation into city corruption.

Fitzgerald’s attorney, Stephen Kennedy, filed a motion earlier in August asking the court to force Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa, and Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, to present themselves to be deposed.

Associate Judge Monica Purdy signed an order Thursday stating that depositions for Cooke, Chapa and Ramirez should take place within five days and that certain relevant documents to the case should be produced prior to the date of the depositions.

Fitzgerald said in a motion filed on Aug. 21 that the city ignored instructions from the court to deliver city officials for questioning and to produce evidence in the case, even though the two parties had agreed to exchange evidence.

Fitzgerald alleges that the city has destroyed evidence important to his case in the form of instant messages that were transmitted between two employees working in the city’s information technology department.

Fitzgerald accused the city of causing those messages to be deleted after being served with notice obligating city officials not to destroy digital data related to his termination and the investigation into official corruption.

A whistleblower lawsuit was filed by Fitzgerald after he was terminated in May. Fitzgerald claims that he was fired because he was conducting an investigation into compliance issues with the city’s crime reporting systems and the city was trying to stop him from sharing his findings with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Had the city not fired Fitzgerald, he would have continued with his investigation, according to Kennedy.

“We contend that the City’s abject failure to produce any documents in this case demonstrates that the City is actively trying to hide evidence of its wrongdoing,” Kennedy said in an emailed statement. “Had Dr. Fitzgerald not been terminated, he intended to arrest two city officials and seize computer files that would implicate criminal conduct.”

City officials maintain that Fitzgerald was fired because he lacked good judgment. City officials are considering whether to appeal parts of the judge’s order.

A statement from the city says: “After a hearing on August 28th [Wednesday] that involved competing motions filed by the Plaintiff and the City, Associate Judge Monica Purdy signed an Order that granted, in part, and denied, in part, the relief that the parties were seeking.

“The City is reviewing Judge Purdy’s Order and will soon decide whether to appeal portions of the Order to the Presiding District Court Judge, Gena Slaughter. The City will address the legal and factual matters raised by Mr. Fitzgerald and his attorney through the court filings and the court process.

“The City disagrees with the allegations as set forth by Mr. Fitzgerald, is fully prepared to defend itself against this lawsuit, and stands behind the decision to terminate Mr. Fitzgerald’s employment. The City continues to maintain that it acted appropriately within the bounds of the law.”

Kennedy is also representing two fired IT employees in their whistleblower lawsuits against the city.

Similar to the two IT employees’ claims, Fitzgerald alleges he was fired by the city because he was investigating and had reported ongoing violations of federal regulations governing access to CJIS — a federally maintained centralized database that law enforcement agencies use to share data and information.

The lawsuit claims Kevin Gunn, the acting chief financial officer for the city, and Roger Wright, the acting chief technology officer, had misled Fitzgerald, the city and the Texas Department of Public Safety when they claimed the city had resolved all pending CJIS compliance issues.

It also claims city officials intentionally destroyed documents required to be maintained for public access.

City officials have also denied those allegations.

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.