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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Fired Fort Worth police chief hires legal counsel

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke announced that Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald was removed from the job Monday, saying that the firing was motivated by several factors, including a recent “incident” in Washington, D.C., that brought Fitzgerald’s “judgment and leadership” into question.

Fitzgerald confirmed his abrupt ouster, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “I’m fired.” Cooke said the chief was offered the chance to resign.

Cooke said city leaders had been working on “some issues” with Fitzgerald since he dropped a contentious bid to leave Texas to lead the police department in Baltimore.

“There comes a point in time when I, as city manager, have to examine the totality of a situation and then decide a course of action,” said Cooke. “My responsibility is to make decisions and recommendations in the best interest of the City of Fort Worth.”

Fitzgerald became Fort Worth’s chief of police in October 2015.

The firing comes just a few days after Fitzgerald had an encounter with the president of the state union at an event in Washington, D.C., and some weeks after he was removed from the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas because he had not joined the Fort Worth Police Officers Association., a requirement of the organization.

Those incidents followed after Fitzgerald was picked by the mayor of Baltimore as her choice to be police commissioner there.

Baltimore’s then mayor named Fitzgerald as her nominee to be the city’s police commissioner in November. But he abruptly withdrew from consideration after The Baltimore Sun reported that Fitzgerald’s resume overstated some achievements from his tenure in Fort Worth. The mayor later resigned over other issues.

Cooke went on to say that he and other city officials looked at a number of issues that have occurred in regard to the chief.

“Is this action today, based on the recent incident in Washington, D.C.? As an isolated incident, no. As an accumulation of items, yes,” he said. “There are certainly several versions of what happened in Washington, D.C., and the extent of how heated the incident or confrontation was or wasn’t. Nonetheless, there was an incident and it brings again into question judgement and leadership. The incident necessitated that the chief, Jay Chapa and I review what happened and discuss how it impacted and impacts the Police Department and the city.”

Mayor Betsy Price said she supported the city manager’s decision.

“These decisions are never made lightly, and I am confident we have reached the right conclusion for both our citizens and our police officers,” she said. “Our citizens deserve a police chief who is committed to building relationships in all communities, by furthering trust and transparency. Our police officers, who risk their lives daily for our community, deserve a leader who will be present, active, and engaged.”

The firing came the day after the police, the chief and neighbors celebrated the safe return of a kidnapped 8-year old.

But Fitzgerald’s tenure has gone through some rough patches.

In 2016, a Fort Worth Police Officer was sharply criticized for his handling of a woman who had called police to say a man had choked her 7-year-old son.

“I have complete confidence in the men and women in our Police Department and in their continued service to our citizens,” said Cooke. “I have complete confidence in the management team in the Police Department and their ability to lead the organization during this change.

“I have appointed Ed Kraus as Interim Police Chief and we have complete confidence in his leadership abilities. In the next several months, I will consult with community leaders, police command staff and our elected officials to recommend the path forward to fill the police chief position on a permanent basis,” Cooke said.

The president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, Manny Ramirez, said officers are “looking forward to the next era of leadership.”

Cooke said there is no timeline for filling the job.

Dallas-based lawyer Stephen Andrew Kennedy of Kennedy Law, P.C. announced May 21 that the firm is representing Joel Fitzgerald. The firm said it is submitting a formal letter to the City Attorney seeking an administrative appeal of the decision to terminate the police chief.

“I am looking forward to representing Dr. Fitzgerald in this matter,” Kennedy said. “We will issue additional statements as this matter develops,” he said.

Kraus began his career with the Fort Worth Police Department in 1992. He has served as an officer, detective and sergeant in several units within the Patrol Bureau. His command experience includes assignments as a Neighborhood Policing District lieutenant, a Patrol Division captain, commander of the Training Division, and deputy chief over the Investigative and Support Command. He is currently over the Patrol Bureau.

This report includes material from the Associated Press

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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