FORT WORTH (CBS11) – Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald is facing criticism as the officer fired for shooting a man holding a barbecue fork says he deserves his job back.
The head of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association says morale has plummeted because of a series of “poor decisions” the chief has made.
One of those decisions, he said, was firing an officer after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict and charges were dropped.
“I thought this nightmare is finally behind me,” said former Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson. “However, when I met with the chief he told me that I was careless and terminated me.”
A jury could not reach a verdict and charges were dropped against Johnson. Soon after, the department fired him, despite experts testifying the shooting was accidental.
“Not one of these experts claimed that I was reckless as the chief publicly stated,” Johnson said.
Johnson argues his gun accidentally fired when he had an uncontrollable, spontaneous reaction on his trigger finger as he pumped the shotgun. He claims the city still in adequately trains its officers about avoiding. the condition.
Johnson’s firing was part of several tumultuous months at the Fort Worth Police Department. There was video of a white officer roughly arresting a black woman and her daughter who’d called police for help. Some officers were also upset after two assistant chiefs were removed from their positions.
“The fact of the matter is almost two years into this administration, the morale in this department is as low as I’ve ever seen in 22 years,” said Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Sgt. Rick Van Houten.
The police officers association is polling members to ask their opinions about how to move forward. Whatever action is decided upon would likely focus on the city’s top cop.
“This particular chief has been here almost two years,” Sgt. Van Houten said. “So, at this point the learning curve is over. So the blame or to put that off on earlier administrations that’s in the past.”
The Fort Worth Police Department released this statement:
The Fort Worth Police Department respects the right of the Association to hold press conferences at will and also respects Courtney Johnson’s due process right to appeal, but will not provide any comment on matters that are still open for arbitration.
The City of Fort Worth released this statement:
While the City respects the Fort Worth Police Officers Association’s decision to hold a press conference this afternoon, we respectfully disagree with their assertions. The shooting incident that ultimately led to Mr. Johnson’s termination was incredibly unfortunate, but it was not a result of training inadequacies. The concerns raised by the FWPOA about morale within the police department are something we take very seriously, and we will continue to work with FWPOA and the Fort Worth Police Department leadership to ensure we have the best department in the nation, built on the dedication of our excellent men and women who protect our community.