Witness Says Alleged DC Confrontation ‘Embarrassed' Fort Worth, Testifies in Fired Police Chief's Hearing

Days before he was fired, former Fort Worth police Joel Fitzgerald approached the president of a Texas state union and shouted at him during an event honoring fallen police officers in Washington, D.C., according to Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officer's Association, testified Wednesday morning as a hearing regarding Fitzgerald stretched into its third day.

The hearing is to determine whether an injunction preventing the city of Fort Worth from hiring a permanent replacement as police chief will continue, as Fitzgerald continues to fight for his reinstatement in a Dallas court.

The alleged confrontation was between Fitzgerald and Todd Harrison, president of CLEAT (Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas), at a National Police Week event in Washington, D.C. in mid-May after Harrison terminated Fitzgerald’s membership with the group, Ramirez testified.

"I see Dr. Fitzgerald coming from my left in a hurried pace. He's rushing up to the stage, and I hear him holler out 'Todd,'" Ramirez testified Wednesday. "That concerned me because earlier in the evening, when I'm sitting at my table, we were sitting at separate tables, Dr. Fitzgerald and I, he had approached my table earlier in the evening. He was visibly upset and he said 'I'm going to have a conversation with your little buddy.'"

Ramirez went on to say he tried to stop Fitzgerald from confronting Harrison, as he felt it was inappropriate. He added, he felt the exchange embarrassed both the city's police department and city of Fort Worth.

"He was non-responsive. He continued to say the same thing over and over – that he was going to talk to him wherever he wanted, that he messed up," he testified.

The exchange was cited as one of the reasons why city officials chose to fire Fitzgerald on May 20, suggesting in a memo to him that "you have a track record of making decisions that are more focused on your best interests instead of the best interest of the city, the organization or department as a whole."

Fitzgerald, however, has stood by his position that his termination was unjust and that it came after he reported city corruption and compliance issues with the IT department to the FBI.

Julie Swearingin, assistant chief of the Fort Worth Police Department, testified Wednesday she was aware of a planned meeting with the FBI on the same day Fitzgerald was fired, receiving an emailed invitation from his secretary that morning. The meeting was regarding possible evidence related to violations within the Criminal Justice Information Services system – or CJIS.

Swearingin testified she had no investigative findings or evidence of CJI violations to present at the meeting and had no information.

"The IT department knew and misrepresented whether the city had only qualified people looking at CJIS data, right?" questioned Fitzgerald's attorney Stephen Kennedy. "Prior to Dec. 19, 2018, is it fair to say the IT department knew it was not compliant with that part of CJIS that requires only qualified personnel to see CJIS data?"

To which, Swearingin answered, "Without having any knowledge, it's hard for me to answer that question."

More witnesses are expected to testify Wednesday afternoon.

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