Community Leaders Seek Federal Consent Decree in Fort Worth

Black pastors and community leaders gathered in Fort Worth Wednesday to push for a federal consent decree to "stop police killings of African-Americans."

Pastor William Glynn with the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church said the group has a serious concern with "where the city is at the present moment."

"There can be no healing until the problem is addressed and the source of the problem is much deeper, even than the shooting that occurred," Glynn said. "The black community is standing with other people of good will to say clearly and emphatically, 'We're tired of being treated like third-class citizens.'"

A consent decree is a negotiated agreement entered as a court order that is enforceable by a judge, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The city of Baltimore, for example, entered an agreement in 2017 to resolve the U.S. Department of Justice's findings that it would believed the city's police department had engaged in a pattern and practice of conduct that violated several constitutional amendments.

On Wednesday, several faith leaders signed a letter expected to the mailed to the Department of Justice requesting the department open an investigation into the Fort Worth Police Department to determine if there is a "continued pattern of using excessive force and violation of civil rights of African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities."

The letter was announced days after Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was shot and killed in her own home by a now-former Fort Worth police officer identified by the department as Aaron Dean.

"We are at a crossroads. We have lost trust in our police department and we are in need of federal consent decree in Fort Worth, Texas," said Pastor Kyev Tatum, of the New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, hundreds of peopel packed inside and outside council chambers. One by one, speakers voiced their concerns with the meeting starting with people deliberately veering off agenda topics to talk about safety in the black community and police accountability.

"The irony was, it was not just black folks speaking. Our white community is hurting too," Tatum said.

We asked the group of faith leaders, which held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the letter to the DOJ, what could be a reasonable first step from the city to restore trust.

"By agreeing with us, that this city needs to be under a federal court ordered consent decree. That tells us whether or not you are genuine, because we're not saying we make the final call or you make the final call," Tatum said. "We sit at a table of reasonableness. Come up with a reasonable solution to this and allow a court to monitor us."

Fort Worth police responded to the letter saying they were focused on the murder investigation.

"At this time the Fort Worth Police Department is focused on completing the investigation for Atatiana Jefferson, her family, and the community in consistent, open, and transparent fashion. Our priority is the consistent release of vital and factual information in a timely manner to inform the public and provide a context of what occurred on all such serious matters. The request by this group for a federal consent decree is obviously their prerogative but it is not the Department's focus or a factor that we are involved in," the department said in a statement.

Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price did not comment directly on the consent decree request. However, she released the following statement:

"Last night, I heard from dozens of citizens. Some of them longtime residents that have called Fort Worth home for 70 years, just like me. The tragic death of Ms. Jefferson has left this city broken. Some of the sentiments we heard last night – Citizens don't feel safe, they are scared, tired and hopeless. As I promised in my open letter to the community, we will continue to listen, and we are taking immediate action. My focus remains on healing this city and pushing forward to see that we make progress. My heart remains heavy and my prayers continue to be with Ms. Jefferson's family. We must take steps to bring justice to her family. Justice is not just a criminal prosecution but is also ensuring the tragedy of Ms. Jefferson's death propels our change."

The mayor's office also pointed to actions currently underway, which include conversations with national experts to review policies and procedures within the city police department. The independent third-party panel is expected to be on board no later than Nov. 19, with updates to the city on a weekly basis.

Price's office also said they are continuing to implement recommendations from the Race and Culture Task Force, which include the hiring of an Independent Police Monitor and Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Interviews are scheduled for the third week of November for the Independent Police Monitor position, while interviews with the final round of candidates for the Diversity and Inclusion Officer are scheduled for Oct. 28 – which includes a public forum.

NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.

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