Fort Worth

Fort Worth officer suspended for 30 days after chief concludes stop was mishandled

Fort Worth’s interim police chief has suspended for 30 days without pay a veteran officer who the chief determined improperly handled an April traffic stop in which a driver would not leave her car.

Officer Thomas Shelton was involved in a use of force blunder and violated departmental policies by escalating the encounter, Chief Ed Kraus concluded this week. Shelton pulled on the woman’s seatbelt and, with other officers, handcuffed her. She sat in Shelton’s patrol car for 17 minutes before he released her with a speeding citation.

Shelton stopped Shamika Whitfield for speeding on April 18 in the 5900 block of Trailview Drive, according to an account included in a letter Kraus wrote to the Fort Worth Firefighters’ and Police Officers Civil Service Commission that the city released in response to a Texas Public Information Act request submitted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Whitfield handed the officer her concealed handgun license and told him she had her gun in the car. Shelton asked Whitfield where the gun was, and she indicated it was between the driver’s seat and the center console. Shelton told Whitfield to not reach for it.

“Of course not, why would I do that?” Whitfield said.

Shelton told her to get out of her vehicle, and the encounter deteriorated.

Whitfield told him that she did not feel comfortable leaving the car because of his aggressive behavior and tone, and she did not see a reason why she needed to get out.

“I don’t care if you’re comfortable,” Shelton responded. “You’re gonna get out of the car right now.”

Shelton continued to demand that Whitfield leave the car.

Whitfield called 911 to request that another officer respond to the stop location due to being afraid of how Shelton was acting.

While Whitfield was on the phone with 911, Shelton yanked on her seatbelt, which was buckled around her, causing pain to her waist.

Shelton told a dispatcher that Whitfield had a weapon, was refusing to get out of the vehicle and that he planned to “yank” her out, according to the account in Kraus’ letter.

Whitfield asked a second officer who had arrived why she had to get out of her vehicle. This officer told her it was because Shelton was telling her to get out. At that point, Shelton took Whitfield’s phone out of her hand, reached into her car and unbuckled her seatbelt.

Shelton and the second officer pulled Whitfield out of the car and “escorted her with other officers to the front of a patrol car,” according to the letter. Whitfield was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.

Shelton returned to Whitfield’s car and placed her handgun on the driver’s seat. He later put the gun in the glove box.

Shelton erred by not trying de-escalation techniques before resorting to force and violating elements of the department’s professional conduct policy, Kraus found.

“Officer Shelton has shown a blatant disregard for the policies and procedures of the Fort Worth Police Department,” Kraus wrote in the letter. “His actions demonstrate behavior that is not consistent with the conduct expected of a Fort Worth Police Officer.”

Manny Ramirez, the president of the police officers’ union, said Shelton’s errors during the stop were a departure from an otherwise blemish-free, 20-year career as a patrol officer.

Shelton has not previously been the focus of an Internal Affairs investigation, Ramirez said.

Shelton chose not to appeal the suspension. It was a demonstration of an officer acknowledging his errors, Ramirez said.

Beyond the suspension, Shelton agreed to apologize in a meeting with Whitfield and participate in a discussion with current police recruits about the Trailview Drive stop that will be recorded and used as a teaching resource for future training.

Shelton’s response to the discipline decision “just shows how good of an officer he is, how good of a man he is,” Ramirez said.

It is not clear what led the department to review Shelton’s encounter with Whitfield.

Shelton and Whitfield could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Emerson Clarridge covers crime and other breaking news for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He works evenings and reports on law enforcement affairs in Tarrant County. He previously was a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald and the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, New York.