Fort Worth

Fort Worth Police Officers Criticize Chief, City Leaders

Police officers' association blasts "political meddling" in discipline

In a sign of growing turmoil in the Fort Worth Police Department, the city's largest police officers' association on Thursday blasted Chief Joel Fitzgerald and city leaders for "political meddling" in internal investigations, including the firing of an officer earlier this week.

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association's board of directors suggested in a strongly-worded letter that the chief was losing confidence of the rank-and-file.

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association's board of directors suggested in a strongly-worded letter that the department's chief was losing confidence of the rank-and-file.

"We can no longer tolerate the inconsistent and disparate actions taken by the leadership of this great city, in particular the chief of police," the leaders wrote in a letter to their 1,600 members. "It is unnerving to know you could be the next officer thrown under the bus for political expedience."

The letter came two days after Fitzgerald fired Officer Courtney Johnson.

The veteran officer said he accidentally shot a man who had followed his orders to get on his knees, while holding a large barbecue fork. Prosecutors charged the officer with aggravated assault. A jury could not reach a verdict, and prosecutors decided not to retry the case.

"We believe the firing of Officer Johnson was politically motivated and the goal was to appease certain political groups in the aftermath of the Officer Martin appeal hearing," board members wrote.

But on Friday, protesters who've been on the streets for months shouting "Fire Fitzgerald," said they were not appeased.

"Of course we're glad that he's off the force, but does this placate? Not at all," said pastor and activist Michael Bell.

The opposing reactions illustrate the bind Fitzgerald faces, balancing different interests.

Police association leaders also were critical of the way Fitzgerald has handled the case of Officer William Martin, who was suspended for 10 days after a viral video surfaced of him arresting Jacqueline Craig.

Many community members continue to push for Martin to be fired.

"We are beyond disappointed in the inconsistent discipline and political meddling in internal investigations under this administration," the letter said.

This comes at a time when violent crime is up significantly. Many people with whom NBC 5 spoke on Friday in downtown Fort Worth want the focus there, instead of protests and growing divisions.

"If we're fighting each other, it's almost like a civil war," said Fort Worth resident Sarah Gant. "What they need right now, because there are so many people against them, is they need to work together as a team."

Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said the letter was from the entire board of directors and declined comment.

At this point, the police association is urging against a "no confidence" vote to formally show their opposition to the chief. But the board said it would follow the will of the membership, if that's what they want.

A police spokeswoman said the chief declined to comment.

An assistant to Mayor Betsy Price said the mayor was out of town and not immediately available.

Much more is expected to be released next week, including likely hearing from the fired officer, Courtney Johnson.

NBC 5's Alice Barr contributed to this report.

Contact Us