FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Fort Worth’s former police chief fired back at the city Friday with a whistleblower lawsuit over his firing last month.
Appearing with his wife and son in Dallas, Fitzgerald sat quietly while his attorney painted a picture of a chief hired to clean up a department, only to find himself out of a job for his efforts.
The suit asks for damages in excess of $1 million.
Attorney Stephen Kennedy rebutted multiple reasons Fort Worth used for firing Fitzgerald, laid out in a termination letter, including an inability to build relationships, interviewing for another position in Baltimore and difficulty managing the department budget.
However, the suit alleges the main reason for Fitzgerald’s firing was his intent to meet with FBI investigators over possible access violations to the Criminal Justice Information System.
While city manager David Cooke had previously said Fitzgerald was given the opportunity to resign that day, Kennedy said the offer, which included money, was contingent on his client not providing support to other whistleblower lawsuits the city is facing related to the same issue.
“Take the money, and be silent, and don’t sue anybody, or be terminated for cause,” Kennedy said. “Dr. Fitzgerald took option two.”
The City Manager’s office responded with a statement Friday:
“The City continues to be fully prepared to defend itself against these absurd allegations. To be clear, the City has affirmed our CJIS certification with the Department of Public Safety. The City stands behind the decision to terminate the Chief’s employment.”
Kennedy connected some of Fitzgerald’s relationship problems, to his hiring in 2015, and a goal of ending questionable actions of officers. To that end he said Fitzgerald disciplined more than 50 officers in his three and half years in the job, to the dismay of officer’s associations.
“Many of the old school officers within the department, openly challenged Fitzgerald as too strict,” Kennedy said. “They did not appreciate his reputation for requiring officers to maintain a squeaky clean by the book professionalism, and this created conflict.”
That conflict came to a head with a widely reported public confrontation with a union official, during a event recognizing fallen officers in Washington D.C.
Kennedy said Fitzgerald intended to report unethical behavior by a state union attorney, who is currently representing dozens of officers in discipline appeals.
That possibility, Kennedy alleged, led association officials to orchestrate the confrontation, in order to place Fitzgerald in a bad light.
Addressing the city’s concerns Fitzgerald had regular budget overruns, Kennedy said one of his attempts to control spending was to cut back on the $800,000 five-officer security detail for Mayor Betsy Price.
Saying Friday that the detail “exceeds that of many celebrities and rock stars,” Kennedy said city leaders rejected the idea. Instead, he said, they removed Fitzgerald’s one person, part-time security aide.
Kennedy said another lawsuit, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is likely to file. That’s related to a memo Fitzgerald wrote to himself of possible instance of racial discrimination. It was one of the items the city laid out in his termination letter.
“The city can’t use a claim of discrimination as a reason for terminating him with cause,” Kennedy said.