Fort Worth Mayor Says Police Need Systemic Changes After Viral Video Arrest | KERA News

Fort Worth Mayor Says Police Need Systemic Changes After Viral Video Arrest

Jan 27, 2017

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a news conference Friday systemic changes need to be made to the police department in light of the viral video that showed a white officer wrestling a black woman and her daughter to the ground.

“I can and we will do things and pledge to the entire community we will take every step we can to correct that,” Price told reporters.

The Fort Worth Police Department announced Thursday it was withdrawing charges against Jacqueline Craig and her 19-year-old daughter, Brea Hymond, after consulting with Tarrant County prosecutors. That announcement came just hours after a police body cam video of the incident surfaced. 

The Dec. 21 incident happened after officer William Martin responded to a conflict between Craig and her neighbor. She said the neighbor had accused her 7-year-old son of littering on his property and then choked the boy. Police also said Thursday that they have cited the neighbor, Itamar Vardi, for assault.

Sgt. Marc Povero, a spokesman for the police department, tells The Dallas Morning News that the Tarrant County district attorney's office determined "that there wasn't enough evidence to support a charge of assault with bodily injury against the neighbor." Povero said the timing of the misdemeanor charge had nothing to do with the body cam footage's release.

During a Friday press conference, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said the body cam tape should not have been released.  

“We will prosecute to the fullest extent whoever was responsible for the leak of this video,” Fitzgerald told reporters. “It is illegal; it contained juvenile information. Bottom line is it is prohibited by state law.”

Officer William Martin is appealing a 10-day suspension he received for the incident with the city's Civil Service Commission. Craig's attorneys said the family would like to see the him fired and criminally charged. 

Fitzgerald said Friday he stands by the 10-day suspension and that the leaked body cam footage and personnel records from previous disciplinary actions against Martin would not affect the suspension.

Price says the city is working on finding ways to improve police and community relations. 

Fitzgerald said earlier this month that Martin violated policy and is sorry for his behavior. Fitzgerald said he had asked Martin, who will also be required to undergo additional training, to go back into the same community "to repair relationships."

But according to Thursday’s news release, Martin will not be returning to his original assignment in the Rock Garden neighborhood. 

Here's the full statement from the police department:

The Fort Worth Police Department has worked to build a strong national reputation as a leader in community policing, service, compassion, and professionalism. We regard ourselves as a procedurally just organization and will better demonstrate its tenets — both internally and externally.

We have consulted with the District Attorney’s office and we have decided to withdraw all matters related to the arrest of Ms. Jacqueline Craig, and Ms. Brea Hymond. Mr. Itamar Vardi has been issued a citation for Assault by Contact as a result of his actions in the initial incident.

Officer Martin has been disciplined with a ten-day suspension with no pay, and Chief Fitzgerald will not be returning him to his original assignment in the Rock Garden neighborhood at this time. Officer Martin has chosen to exercise his right to appeal this disciplinary action and hearing will be set for a later date.

The Police Department recognizes we must work to repair the fractured relationships in our community. We are committed to ensuring all Fort Worth Police officers live up to restoring the trust you have lost in our department. 

Here's the bodycam footage released Thursday. Warning: It includes violence and harsh language that may not be suitable for all viewers.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price issued a statement Thursday:

We stand in support of the Chief’s decision to handle this case at the city level. This is the most appropriate avenue to address the charges in the Dec. 21 Rock Garden Trail incident. I am committed to the restorative process needed to heal any breach of trust in our community. We continue to support the work of our excellent Fort Worth officers, who are tasked with so much in their roles to serve and protect our citizens. We know that healing takes time and compassionate efforts. But, as we learn from this incident, I trust that our community will grow to be even stronger.

One of Craig's daughters videoed the interactions between her mother and the officer, and posted it on Facebook shortly after the arrests. During the confrontation, Craig was charged with resisting arrest and failure to identify herself as a fugitive on three outstanding traffic warrants from Irving.

Here's that video. Warning: It includes violence and harsh language that may not be suitable for all viewers.

Lee Merritt, one of Craig's attorneys, tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he and Craig found out charges would be dropped against her Wednesday night. In an email to the Associated Press, Merritt said that he had received the body cam video from a trusted source he declined to identify. Merritt noted that Craig, at the end of the officer's video, can be heard confirming her identity, and he challenged the failure to identify charge.

"Under the laws of the State of Texas, the attorneys for the Craig family are legally entitled to the complete investigative file, records and recordings of this incident and any officers involved. The FWPD have denied and/or delayed several requests from our office in providing this information," Merritt wrote.

The footage also depicts Martin pushing Hymond's arms, which were handcuffed, above her head from behind when she refuses to answer his question. It also shows him making physical contact as he pushes another young female who approaches the police car away from the scene.

Those two incidents along with the use of his foot to push the 15-year-old into the police car were cited in a letter from Fitzgerald to the city's Civil Service Commission explaining the finding that Martin had used excessive force in the situation and asking for his suspension.

Fitzgerald's report also said Martin violated department policy by failing to thoroughly investigate, neglecting his duty, and being discourteous to the public and conduct prejudicial to good order.

Report says Fort Worth officer has been disciplined before

Documents show Martin was previously disciplined for using his Taser to stop a foot chase with two black teenagers.

The internal report was provided to The Associated Press Thursday by Craig’s attorney. It shows Martin was ordered to undergo coaching with a supervisor as a result of a 2013 use of force complaint.

The report says it's against department policy to deploy a Taser to stop a foot chase. The teenagers were trespassing at a Fort Worth high school after hours.

Police spokeswoman Tamara Valle said the department could not authenticate the video or the disciplinary report at this time.

This story has been updated.