North Texas

Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Calls Department Morale ‘All-Time Low'

The head of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association says that morale in the department is at an all-time low, and the rank-and-file officers do not believe Chief Joel Fitzgerald has their backs.

FWPOA President Sgt. Rick Van Houten spoke alongside recently fired Officer Courtney Johnson on Wednesday. Johnson spoke publicly for the first time since the chief fired him and since a criminal case against him ended in a mistrial.

The officers' association has called Johnson's firing the last straw in mounting distrust in Fitzgerald during a controversial time for the department.

Johnson stood trial for shooting Craigory Adams in the arm while on duty. Adams said he used a racial slur.

But on Wednesday, Johnson came forward to share who he is.

"I am a Christian," Johnson said. "A husband, a father, a son, a veteran, a coach, a teacher and I was a police officer."

And he shared who he says he is not.

"I am not, nor have I ever been, a racist," Johnson said.

Johnson maintains the shooting was accidental, a "sympathetic reflex," when he racked his shotgun in warning, to make Adams answer his commands faster.

"I am truly sorry that it happened," Johnson said Wednesday.

The jury couldn't reach a verdict, and the Tarrant County District Attorney decided not to retry the case. But Fitzgerald then fired Johnson, two years after the shooting, calling his actions "reckless."

On Wednesday, Johnson's attorney, Terry Daffron, and Van Houten said they believe the firing was politically motivated to make up for the community backlash when Fitzgerald did not fire Officer William Martin, who arrested Jacqueline Craig in a widely-viewed viral video.

"You don't expect a chief to be making decisions based from a popularity standpoint or trying to gain favor with certain segments or groups within the community," Daffron said.

Van Houten said it's all adding up to the rank-and-file officers losing confidence in their chief.

"The morale in this department is as low as I've ever seen it in 22 years," Van Houten said. "Do they have the support of the administration or are they going to be the next one that is political cannon-fodder?"

Johnson is appealing his firing. He and his attorney said Wednesday that the police department did not provide adequate shotgun training that they say could have prevented the shooting. They're also concerned that that training has not been updated since the incident.

Community activist Rev. Kyev Tatum, a longtime critic of the department, said he supports Fitzgerald.

"I'm hoping he can be saved. I'm hoping our city can be saved," Tatum said. "He hasn't been here two good years and we've placed him in a no-win situation."

The full membership of the officers' association meets on Thursday. Van Houten said that many members are calling for a no-confidence vote to formally show they don't support Fitzgerald. But, at least for now, the association leadership says that is not the right way to go.

Fitzgerald is out of town and no one else in the department wanted to comment for this story.

The city of Fort Worth released a statement saying it disagreed with association's claims.

"The shooting incident that ultimately led to Mr. Johnson's termination was incredibly unfortunate, but it was not a result of training inadequacies," the statement said. "The concerns raised by the FWPOA about morale ... are something we take very seriously, and we will continue to work with FWPOA and the Fort Worth Police Department leadership to ensure we have the best department in the nation."

NBC 5's Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

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