Editorials

Officer’s choice: lighter discipline, even promotion

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald announces discipline for officer William Martin at a Jan. 9 news conference.
Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald announces discipline for officer William Martin at a Jan. 9 news conference. rmallison@star-telegram.com

When Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald announced Jan. 9 that he was suspending officer William Martin for 10 days without pay, he described it as a “significant punishment” and said some members of his staff wanted him to be more lenient.

“But the buck stops here,” Fitzgerald said.

Apparently the chief did not tell the whole story.

He cited Martin for “using excessive force, being disrespectful, and failing to thoroughly investigate a criminal offense” in his Dec. 21 arrest of Jacqueline Craig, 46, and her two daughters.

The arrests stemmed from a southwest Fort Worth neighborhood dispute over — of all things — littering. Craig’s 7-year-old son said a neighbor laid hands on him when he refused to pick up raisins he had dropped.

When Craig called police and Martin showed up, rather than calming the waters the officer actually provoked an already-angry Craig. One of Craig’s daughters caught the ensuing escalation and arrest on video, which went viral when it was posted on the internet.

Now, a letter from Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Sgt. Rick Van Houten to association members shows that not only did Fitzgerald first choose a more lenient seven-day suspension, he even offered Martin a promotion.

The letter, obtained by Star-Telegram reporter Mitch Mitchell, said Fitzgerald offered a promotion to corporal if Martin would agree to a seven-day suspension and waive his right to an appeal.

Craig had called for Martin to be fired.

Terry Daffron, Martin’s attorney, said his client turned down the promotion because of the excessive force allegation. The incident will be reviewed by a grand jury, and any such agreement could have left Martin vulnerable.

Fitzgerald knew the excessive force allegation was a deal-breaker, Daffron said, and “if that had been removed all this could have gone away.”

Which begs the question: If Fitzgerald believed — as he clearly did — that Martin used excessive force, why offer the more lenient discipline and a promotion?

Van Houten and Daffron say that Fitzgerald had no authority to make such an offer. Is that true?

The chief won’t elaborate. The cloud hanging over all of this just got a little darker.

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