North Texas

Veteran Fort Worth Officer Fired After Review of Arrest Video

A veteran Fort Worth police officer has been terminated for excessive use of force in an incident where he ordered a rookie officer to use a stun gun on a woman who had called for help during a domestic dispute.

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said in an emailed statement that he fired Sgt. Kenneth Pierce on Monday, saying the 22-year police veteran became impatient and needlessly initiated the physical confrontation with the woman, Dorshay Morris.

Fitzgerald also released a 12-minute video from the body camera of the rookie officer, Maria Bayona, that he said clearly shows Pierce's behavior was "absolutely unacceptable."

Police spokeswoman Lt. Paula Fimbres said department officials are still reviewing Bayona's actions, including the deployment of her Taser in the August altercation.

An attorney for Pierce, Terry Daffron, said she had already appealed his firing. She also accused the chief of "cherry-picking transparency" and said that his actions had already set other officers on edge, leading them to question whether their jobs could be the next on the line.

"It makes officers hesitate, and when officers hesitate, people get hurt and people get killed. And, to me, that's unacceptable," Daffron said.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Daffron and the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, Sgt. Rick Van Houten, shared details from the initial 911 call and the incident report.

They said it's critical to note that the initial call came in as a weapons incident and that when officers arrived on scene, they only knew it was a domestic disturbance and that Morris was making threats with a knife and refused to put it down.

They also shared documents showing that a use of force expert for the department determined that the officers did not use excessive force in the incident.

Chief Fitzgerald disagreed. He said the incident came to light when supervisors were conducting a mandatory review of officer use of force.

"We are built on a foundation of being problem-solvers. Pierce responded in an opposite manner, and he escalated the situation endangering everyone involved including his fellow officers," Fitzgerald said in a department statement.

In the video, Morris can be seen holding her license arguing with Bayona, who is asking for her ID. Pierce can be seen grabbing her neck, then her hair and pulling her head down to try to get the woman in handcuffs. In the video Pierce can be heard telling Bayona to "Tase her."

Morris was placed in handcuffs. Fitzgerald said charges against her were dropped after the video and other evidence was reviewed.

Fimbres said the department had tried to Morris, whose face is blurred in the video, to get her statement about the incident for their investigation, including leaving phone messages, mailing letters and leaving information at her address. She Morris did not respond.

The release from Fitzgerald said he recognized the case was "eerily reminiscent" of an incident in December 2016, where a white Fort Worth officer responding to a report that a neighbor had choked a boy for littering, arrested the boy's mother and two sisters, who were black. The confrontation between the officer, William Martin, and the mother, Jacqueline Craig, was broadcast on social media by one of her daughters and was viewed millions of times gaining national attention.

The release noted that in contrast to the incident last year, the department released the recording of the August incident while the case is still under review and initiated the investigation without a complaint.

Daffron, however, questioned why the chief let Sgt. Pierce stay on the streets for four months if he thought his conduct was so out of line. She believes the timing of Pierce's firing was no coincidence, coming nearly a year to the day after the Craig incident.

"I think that it is a travesty and inappropriate that the chief made the decision this week and has made the link between the two, because these cases could not be more vastly different," Daffron said.

Craig and other supporters went to Morris's home Tuesday evening. They stood by her side as community activist Pastor Michael Bell called Pierce's firing a step in the right direction.

"The chief made a decision, in this case, it was the right decision," Dr. Bell said. "Now what about changing the culture of policing in Fort Worth so that all citizens can call and expect an appropriate response."

NBC 5's Alice Barr contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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