Legal Battles

Audio of Fort Worth Cop Proves He and Chief Should Seek Other Employment

Chief Joel Fitzgerald had a duty to all of Fort Worth’s citizens to protect his force from bad cops.
Chief Joel Fitzgerald had a duty to all of Fort Worth’s citizens to protect his force from bad cops.
A couple days ago The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published the transcript of a voice recording in which Fort Worth police Officer William A. Martin explained the Dec. 21 arrest of a Fort Worth woman and her two daughters by saying, in part, “This all got blown out of proportion with the internet video and the commentary that went along with it.”

The recording was made at a Jan. 6 meeting between Martin and Fort Worth Chief of Police Joel Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald let Martin off with a brief suspension, even though Martin had committed three violent bogus arrests and failed to arrest the person who had ignited the incident, who was later charged with assault.

Apparently intended to humanize Martin, who expresses regret over the incident in the recording, the recording is actually the best proof yet why this man doesn’t need to be a cop any longer and why his chief doesn’t need to be a chief.

Is it callousness, arrogance or an IQ issue? It’s hard to imagine a worse misreading of the underlying events.

The incident went viral on YouTube. Jacqueline Craig, 49, called police to report a neighbor who she said had choked her 7-year-old son. Martin showed up with other cops. He chatted with the neighbor, who was standing on the street, then arrested Craig and two daughters in a series of rough-and-tumble throw-downs in which he jammed a gun into their backs and pointed it at them. It turned out to be a stun gun, if that’s a good thing, but the three women had no way of knowing what it was at the time.

Authorities had to go back into the entire incident, release and drop charges against Craig and her daughters and then bring assault charges against the neighbor. So in addition to raining down violence on three innocent citizens, Martin managed to get the entire episode exactly upside down and wrong in terms of who the bad guy was and what Martin’s duty was as a police officer.

In addition to that, the arrests had a racial element that simply could not be ignored. Craig and her children are black. The officer is white. The neighbor now charged with assaulting a child is white.

I wrote about this before. In a long videotape of the entire episode, Craig’s children were clearly anxious while waiting for police to arrive, repeating that they were afraid they would be treated like Trayvon Martin — that is, killed, like the black Florida teen shot by a white vigilante in 2012. Then when Officer Martin did show up, when he treated the neighbor with respect but threw their own mother to the ground, they saw their nightmare unfolding.

And I know that somebody will want to argue with me that the incident, however unfortunate, was not racial. Craig and her daughters did get excited and shout at Martin. There was plenty of foul language. Things did get crazy. Someone will say that doesn’t mean it’s about race. I get all that.

But to seriously offer an argument that there was no racial element in this incident, you’ve got to show me all the videotape of white middle class suburban women getting chucked on the ground by police and cuffed with guns jammed in their backs after calling police to report a bad neighbor. Show me the tape of mouthy white teenage girls getting tossed on the ground and cuffed with a cop’s knee in their backs, and I don’t mean, “Naked White Woman Gets Arrested at Waffle House for Assaulting Customers and Police Officers.” You know what I mean. I mean a respectable white citizen getting arrested in this same way.  A true and fair parallel.

Why don’t I see those? Here, this is me, looking. Looking, looking, looking. Nope, can’t find them. So I guess a white cop treating a black, middle-aged, middle-class mother like street trash is entirely without reference to race? You know what? Even if I wanted to swallow that, I couldn’t, because it’s just way too big.

Martin tells Chief Fitzgerald in the transcript he shouldn’t have asked Craig why her son had littered — supposedly the triggering incident before the neighbor is alleged to have choked her son. He says it was, “just a bad situation based on [a couple of people’s] actions and that stupid question I asked.”

Nowhere in what I was able to read does Martin address the legal question that Craig put to him when he asked her about her son’s littering. In the videotape, Craig points out to Martin that the question of littering, whether the boy did it or not, was irrelevant to the allegation that the neighbor had choked him. So what if he had littered? A police officer should know that an adult cannot choke a child under any circumstances.

How is that a complicated issue? An adult choking a child? How do you miss that one? How do you get it upside down?

click to enlarge
Forth Worth’s first black chief, Joel Fitzgerald.
Martin complains in the tape that it was difficult for him to make decisions because everyone was yelling. When the underlying allegation was the choking of a child, what kind of mood did Martin expect from the mother of the child? If he has that much trouble thinking when a mother is shouting at him about her child, I’d hate to see how he deals with a barricaded gunman.

And then Fitzgerald. He is Fort Worth’s first black chief. Given the unbelievably light penalty dealt to Martin by Fitzgerald, given the overwhelming racial overtones in the incident itself, it’s impossible to avoid concluding that Fitzgerald was bending over backward not to be too black. What was called for was just the opposite.

Fitzgerald had a duty to all of the citizens of Fort Worth, minority and white. He needed to demonstrate that he was not going to be intimidated into tolerating bad policing or racial bias on his force. All he accomplished by letting Martin off light was to make himself look just the opposite — totally intimidated by his own race.

The guy arrested the wrong people. He didn’t arrest the right person. In the larger context of what’s going on in the country today, you’d have to be blind or brain-dead not to see race as a factor. This transcript only makes it more obvious that Martin isn’t smart enough to be a cop and Fitzgerald lacks the basic bone structure to be chief.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze