Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald is getting it from all sides.
For months, he’s endured criticism (sometimes warranted) for his paltry punishment of Officer William Martin, whose gross misconduct during the arrest of Jacqueline Craig has sparked racial tension in the city.
Later, Fitzgerald’s decision to demote two senior officers, Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes, for their alleged involvement in leaking body camera video and Martin’s personnel records in the arrest’s aftermath attracted even more verbal attacks.
And at a scathing press conference this week, Fort Worth Police Officers Association president Sgt. Rick Van Houten assailed the chief for another controversial personnel issue — firing Officer Courtney Johnson.
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Indeed, Van Houten said that Fitzgerald’s handling of such cases has left department morale “as low as I’ve ever seen it in 22 years.”
It’s also hyperbolic.
Johnson was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in connection with the nonfatal shooting of Craig Adams in 2015. Adams was holding a barbecue fork that Johnson mistook for a knife.
The charges against Johnson were dropped after the judge declared a mistrial last month, but Fitzgerald saw fit to terminate Johnson anyway.
He called Johnson’s action in the case “careless,” and trial testimony indicated that Johnson made errors during the incident.
Johnson and his attorney expressed frustration with Fitzgerald’s inconsistent support relating to Adams’ shooting, and blamed the event on inadequate training, which they say Fitzgerald has yet to address. Improving training would certainly benefit officers and might warrant consideration, but blaming Johnson’s behavior on training deficiencies seems like a red herring.
They also accuse Fitzgerald of firing Johnson to mollify critics angry over Martin, Pridgen and Keyes.
“You don’t expect a chief to be making decisions based on a popularity standpoint,” said Johnson’s attorney Terry Daffron.
That’s a bold accusation — problematic if true, and damaging if false. Either way, it’s not something that should be stated without evidence to support it.
No one is blaming the POA for standing up for Johnson. That’s exactly what the union is expected to do.
But the association doesn’t do itself any favors with its disproportionate attack on Fitzgerald.