Fort Worth

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald Withdraws Name From Baltimore Nomination

Baltimore Mayor says chief's son needs second brain surgery Tuesday; Fort Worth Mayor, City Manager offer support

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald says he withdrew from consideration for Baltimore's new police commissioner Monday so he can focus more attention on the needs of his family and his "Fort Worth Police Department family."

The announcement first came Monday morning in a tweet from the Fort Worth Police Department.

Later Monday morning, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Fitzgerald made the decision to "devote his full attention" to one his 13-year-old son who, she said, is facing a second brain surgery this week to "remove a mass that was discovered late last week."

Fitzgerald released the following statement:

"The decision to withdraw from the Baltimore process came down to this, I reflected upon the tremendous outpouring of heartfelt support I received here in Fort Worth over the last few months. Our community communicated this to me, even before this medical emergency occurred with my son, but is was reinforced thereafter knowing there was a possibility I could leave. Their support never wavered, and may have intensified."

"There is literally nowhere I go in this city of almost 900,000 residents where someone doesn’t approach me to say first, 'Hey Chief, your Eagles stink, and by the way, you’re still needed and loved here in Fort Worth.' I will now focus on my child’s next bout of brain surgery, and being home with family, my Fort Worth Police Department family...and this awesome community."

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the city's attention and prayers are with Fitzgerald and his family. She added that the community and department "deserves a fully-committed chief of police, as Chief Fitzgerald has shown in the past," but that ultimately the next steps will be decided by the city manager.

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke said Monday that the city has been "very patient and supportive throughout this awkward approval process" and that his thoughts and prayers are with Fitzgerald and his family as they deal with their family emergency.

Cooke said the process has been a "distraction" and added that when the time is right he hopes to work with Fitzgerald to "understand his desire to fully commit to work here in Fort Worth."

Nomination Controversy

Fitzgerald's nomination was rocky from the start. Critics in Baltimore and Fort Worth cast doubt on his record and reputation as a true police reformer.

Saturday, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund pushed Mayor Pugh to withdraw Fitzgerald's nomination, with the organization stating on social media it has "no confidence that he is the commissioner #Baltimore needs."

The NAACP statement was published following recent reports from The Baltimore Sun which suggest Fitzgerald's resume overstated some achievements in Fort Worth and Allentown, Pa.

"The multiple and serious questions raised about Dr. Fitzgerald’s record — many of which go to the veracity of representations he has made about his record — must be addressed promptly and thoroughly," the statement read.

The statement continued with a list of questions for city council members to present to Fitzgerald if the hiring process moves forward.

Read the full NAACP Legal Defense Fund letter to the Baltimore City Council below, or click here to read it in your browser.

What's Next for Baltimore

Fitzgerald's withdrawl is the latest setback to the beleaguered Baltimore police force where leadership instability has become the norm.

The announcement about his withdrawal comes days after Pugh's office announced that Fitzgerald would not be able to travel to Baltimore for public hearings into his nomination because of a serious medical emergency suffered by one of his sons.

Following a selection period that lasted most of 2018, Pugh in mid-November said that Fitzgerald, a 47-year-old Philadelphia native, was her pick to be the city's next police leader, the fourth one during her roughly two-year administration. She said she was confident that he was the best candidate to lead the department "into a new era of credibility, accountability and trust."

Baltimore's City Hall will now go back to the drawing board to pick the city's next police leader. Acting Commissioner Gary Tuggle would continue managing day-to-day affairs of the department and Pugh on Monday said she would be "communicating further on the process to select" a permanent leader.

The next police commissioner faces formidable challenges: reduce one of the highest homicide rates of any large U.S. city, to rebuild trust between officers and deeply skeptical residents, and win the confidence of a demoralized department racked by corruption and feuding factions.

That's all while making sure sweeping reforms encompassing fundamental aspects of police work finally take root in Baltimore, where U.S. Justice Department investigators found the police force routinely violated the constitutional rights of citizens for years.

NBC 5's Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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