A state appeals panel ruled that former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald should have received an honorable discharge when he was fired in May 2019, overturning a city decision to give him a general discharge.
In its 43-page decision, the State Office of Administrative Hearings said the evidence does not support a finding that Fitzgerald’s termination was the result of a “documented performance problem.”
Fitzgerald took a job last month as police chief in Waterloo, Iowa.
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In an emailed statement, Fitzgerald’s lawyer, Stephen Kennedy of Dallas, said the decision “vindicates” the former chief and noted a whistleblower lawsuit is set for trial later this year.
“There are elements of this story yet to be heard, including evidence that the city diverted lucrative contracts to specific vendors and failed to follow competitive bidding,” Kennedy said.
Fitzgerald has said he was investigating corruption at City Hall, including in the technology department, and was set to meet with the FBI the very day he was fired.
Among other things, the city had argued Fitzgerald showed poor judgement and placed his own interests above the city’s when he applied to be police chief in Baltimore.
The review panel disagreed, saying Fitzgerald was allowed to seek job opportunities in other cities and had kept Fort Worth managers informed of what he was doing.
Chief Ed Kraus, who was appointed to replace Fitzgerald, testified he gave his former boss a general discharge instead of an honorable discharge based on a termination letter from City Manager David Cooke.
Fitzgerald was fired after he turned down an offer to resign.
Kraus acknowledged if Fitzgerald had resigned, he never would have seen the termination letter.
The hearings judge also noted that Fitzgerald had received performance-based merit raises in the four years before his termination.
The city of Fort Worth called the ruling "nothing more than a clarification in characterizing" the termination and has nothing to do with Fitzgerald's separate lawsuit.
The city stood by its decision to give him a general discharge because "there were numerous issues of judgment and performance that led to the decision to terminate the former chief."