A Fort Worth police sergeant fired more than a year ago for allegedly using excessive force is getting his badge back, with back pay, after city officials decided he shouldn't have been fired.
Sgt. Kenneth Pierce was terminated in December 2017 by Fort Worth Chief of Police Joel Fitzgerald after the chief said body camera footage of an arrest from the previous August showed Pierce using excessive force.
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Pierce appealed his firing and, in a hearing Wednesday with an arbitrator, was reinstated with a suspension for 35 days for "failure to supervise." Pierce has already served the suspension so he'll receive back pay for the entire time he was gone, minus those 35 days.
As part of the settlement, Pierce has agreed to drop a claim he filed saying he was unfairly bypassed for a promotion to lieutenant. Allegations against him of unlawful arrest and improper use of force were also dropped.
"He is happy," said Terry Daffron, an attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT), which represented Pierce in his termination appeal. "He's just glad to be coming back. it's been a very long year for him."
Daffron said she expected Pierce to return to work within the next several days -- and that it will be up to Fitzgerald to determine how and where he is assigned.
The incident involved a call to 911 in August 2017 by Dorshay Morris who told emergency operators her boyfriend was trying to break her car windows and kick in her door. She also told them she had a knife and wasn't afraid to stab her boyfriend in self-defense.
Pierce, a 22-year-veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department, responded to the call with a rookie officer. As they searched Morris' purse for weapons, Fitzgerald said she was cooperating when Pierce got impatient, grabbed her by her hair and ordered the rookie officer to use a stun gun on her.
Fitzgerald called Pierce's behavior "absolutely unacceptable."
A subsequent internal investigation of the arrest found Morris should have never been arrested and the charges against her were dropped. Fitzgerald, having reviewed the body camera footage of the arrest, said excessive force was used and Pierce was fired in December 2017.
In an interview with NBC 5 that month, Morris asserted she did nothing wrong and that she'd called the police for help.
The Fort Worth Police Officers Association and CLEAT have long maintained that Pierce's firing was politically motivated. They argued it was critical to note that the initial call came in as a weapons incident -- and that when officers arrived on scene, they only knew that they were responding to a domestic disturbance, that Morris had a knife, and she told dispatchers she wasn't going to put it down.
After another department expert said Pierce did not violate use-of-force policies, he appealed his termination. Meanwhile, the FBI and Tarrant County District Attorney both declined to prosecute Pierce on the allegation of excessive force.
Pierce was not present Wednesday morning as the agreement was read. But Morris, her attorney, and other activists were in the audience, some of them holding signs that read "Hold Police Accountable" and "Justice for Dorshay".
“No justice has been done. He don’t deserve his job back,” Morris said.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," said Jasmine Crockett, Morris' attorney. "But this is turning out to be the Fort Worth way. We have seen time and time again where Fort Worth has decided to use excessive force -- and then give a slap on the wrist and say it's okay, we did something."
Crockett said tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson should have presented the case to the grand jury instead of deciding on her own that Pierce committed no crime.
Crockett said she believed race played a role in the final outcome and that outcomes like this will only further strain the relationship between the police and minority communities.
“I don’t believe that Dorshay would be in this situation if she was a different hue, or if she had a different amount of money,” Crockett said.
Assistant City Attorney Kelly Albin who represented the city at the hearing declined comment.
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff, Tim Ciesco, Scott Gordon and Frank Heinz contributed to this report.