What to Know
Joel Fitzgerald fired, city manager says change of leadership is needed.
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Mayor Betsy Price asked City Manager David Cooke to get to the bottom of a "confrontation" involving the chief that occurred last week.
Fitzgerald reportedly accepted a job late last year to be the police commissioner in Baltimore. He later withdrew his candidacy.
Joel Fitzgerald is out as the chief of police for the nation's 15th largest city, terminated by the Fort Worth city manager Monday who said a change in leadership was necessary for the citizens and the men and women of the police department.
Fitzgerald told NBC 5 Monday afternoon that he had no warning the termination was coming. He said he's done nothing wrong and that he anticipates legal action against the city. His attorney told NBC 5 he will appeal the firing.
NBC 5 obtained the scathing memo Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa sent to Fitzgerald Monday informing him he was fired. In it, Chapa accused Fitzgerald of being "more focused on your best interest instead of the best interest of the city." The letter implies that the chief's tenure has been full of drama and conflict and a series of missteps that broke down trust in his leadership.
City Manager David Cooke said in a statement Monday afternoon that he made the decision to terminate Fitzgerald "in the best interest of this community" after examining the "totality" of a situation.
The "situation," Cooke confirmed in a formal statement, included incidents last week in Washington D.C. as well as fallout from December when city leaders were surprised to learn Fitzgerald was named the next police commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department. Fitzgerald withdrew his candidacy in January, however, saying he was focused on his son who needed a second brain surgery.
Then, last week, at a National Police Week event in Washington D.C., Fitzgerald confronted the leader of a state police union (CLEAT) over being kicked out of the association for registering with the wrong credentials. Fort Worth Police Association President Manny Ramirez said he saw it happen.
"We had over 70 officers up there to honor all of the fallen for National Police Week and we didn't want anything to take away from that," Ramirez said.
Mayor Betsy Price asked Cooke to get to the bottom of the incident, saying the city holds their officers, including the chief, to a high standard.
"Our conversation with the chief at different times has been, 'You are always the Chief of Police. You are always representing the city of Fort Worth.' That was probably not the right time or situation to take on that one issue," Cooke said at a Monday afternoon press conference. "As an isolated incident, no. As a series or accumulation of incidents, it becomes the one that you say, maybe it's time to change."
If the police week incident was the final straw, then perhaps the first was the viral video of Jacqueline Craig and her daughters being pushed to the ground and arrested after calling police for help. The officer received a 10-day suspension and the incident sparked major protests across the city.
"It's like the first day to us because we still haven't healed from that," Craig said Monday afternoon. "At that point, when he didn't do right by me, I felt like that should have been the firing point."
But supporters of the chief see a different reason for his fall from grace. After the Craig case, he fired at least eight officers over how they used force in different situations.
"And he continued to tell officers, 'I'm going to hold you accountable, I'm going to hold you accountable.' And when he held them accountable, it made the system uncomfortable," Fort Worth pastor and activist Kyev Tatum said. "We really believe this is a huge step backwards, huge."
Earlier in the morning Monday, Fitzgerald was with Price doing an interview with NBC News in the neighborhood where an 8-year-old girl was abducted Saturday as she walked with her mother. After the girl was safely located eight hours later, both Fitzgerald and Price appeared at a community rally praising the response of police and the help provided by good Samaritans.
Price, following Cooke's news conference Monday afternoon, released the following statement offering total support for Cooke's decision to release the chief.
"I am in full support of our City Manager’s decision to terminate Joel Fitzgerald as chief of police. These decisions are never made lightly, and I am confident we have reached the right conclusion for both our citizens and our police officers. Our citizens deserve a police chief who is committed to building relationships in all communities, by furthering trust and transparency. Our police officers, who risk their lives daily for our community, deserve a leader who will be present, active, and engaged," said Price.
Cooke said Executive Assistant Chief Edwin Kraus, who has been with the department since 1992, has been named interim Chief of Police. Ramirez called Kraus "a proven leader who will be an easy man to follow."
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cooke said the chief was offered the chance to resign.
Fitzgerald, who is originally from Philadelphia, became the Fort Worth chief in October 2015. He was previously the chief of Allentown, Pennsylvania and Missouri City, Texas after working with the Philadelphia Police Department for 17 years. As the chief of the Fort Worth Police Department, Fitzgerald oversaw 1,700 sworn officers and 500 civilian employees.
You can read the chief's full termination letter below.