Question: What do United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald have in common? Answer: Public relations nightmares that became worse once the top dog got involved.
After video went viral showing Dr. David Dao being yanked out of the airplane seat he paid for – and getting a concussion and two teeth knocked out in the process – Munoz exacerbated the problem by apologizing for having to “re-accommodate” Dao. The social media world spewed venom all over Munoz for that.
Fitzgerald’s handling of the racially-charged Jacqueline Craig incident was made worse after he described the actions of police officer William Martin as “rude” but not racist. (Here’s another word to describe Martin’s behavior: inexcusable.)
The leaking of Martin’s personnel records and bodycam footage prompted Fitzgerald to put two high-ranking black administrators on detached duty –– essentially, a house arrest. Meanwhile, Martin, the white guy who started the whole mess, skipped off with light punishment (10 days suspension instead of the outright firing many felt he deserved).
Considering that Fitzgerald himself is black, many in the minority community are asking: What the hell? The latest is retired Fort Worth police Sgt. Kevin Fitchett, who served as the first president of the Fort Worth Black Police Officers Association and was with the department almost 30 years. He told us that he believes Fitzgerald should be fired. And he has issued a scathing open letter to Fitzgerald, flogging him for the way he handled the Craig case and several other situations involving alleged police misconduct in which race may have been a factor.
The letter’s biggest burn may have been when Fitchett compared Fitzgerald unfavorably to former Chief Jeffrey Halstead (who is white), under whose tenure racial tensions within the department were exposed through a report compiled by private consultants.
“I truly did not think it was possible for police-minority relations to be worse than under Halstead, but you have proven to be up to the task,” Fitchett wrote.
Fitzgerald said through a police spokesperson that he did not wish to comment for this article.
In case you slept through the hullabaloo, here’s what happened: On Dec. 21, Fort Worth resident Craig, who is black, called 911 believing that her neighbor, Itamar Vardi, had choked her 7-year-old son. (Vardi has since been charged with assault by contact, a Class C misdemeanor, and has pleaded not guilty.)
Martin responded to the scene and, from the get-go, seemed to have an attitude toward Craig. Just before things went south, he told her: “If you keep yelling at me, you’re going to piss me off, and I’m going to take you to jail.”
(Note to Martin: Craig was not yelling at you. Her voice was slightly raised because she was agitated, as any parent would be if they believed someone had assaulted their child. Craig and her daughters began yelling only after you scared the hell out of them by speaking inappropriately and becoming unnecessarily aggressive.)
After Martin inexplicably wrestled with and arrested Craig and her daughters, a public outcry emanated from the minority community and others who felt that the officer’s actions were racially motivated. The story made national news, and the coverage was made even more mortifying by the aforementioned leaking of Martin’s personnel records and bodycam footage.
Which brings us to Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes.
The department’s Internal Affairs and Special Investigations units are trying to determine whether one or both men played a role in the leak. Police and city leaders have said that the leak was illegal.
Fitchett has two things to say about that. One, what the heck is taking so long? Police are spending more time trying to dig up dirt on two administrators who have “impeccable” reputations than they are investigating Martin, whose words and actions were captured on cell phone video and his own bodycam.
And two, both Pridgen and Keyes (according to Fitchett) have offered to take polygraphs and to turn over their home computers for inspection, yet those offers have thus far been ignored. Meanwhile, the officers are required to sit at home by the phone every day during the hours they would normally be on the job.
“It’s a shame because people who have actually committed crimes are back on the department, back working, but the people who are suspected (of having committed a crime) are being treated like criminals,” Fitchett said. “How in God’s name does that make any logical sense?”
Regarding Fitzgerald’s pledge to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those responsible for the leak, Fitchett said that’s his prerogative.
“Let the chips fall where they may,” Fitchett said. “But if you’re just besmirching these officers’ character, then that’s ridiculous. Come up with your evidence.”
The retired sergeant believes that Fitzgerald is allowing himself to be manipulated and bullied by Sgt. Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officer’s Association – an organization that he feels defends police officers who should be held accountable for their actions.
Of Fitzgerald, Fitchett said: “This guy has made one bad decision after another. He’s digging a hole, and he just doesn’t know when to stop digging. He doesn’t need to be chief.”