After Reviewing Arrest Video, Fort Worth Police Chief Fires Sergeant Over Use Of Force
A Texas police sergeant has been fired for ordering a rookie officer to use a stun gun on a woman who had called for help during a domestic dispute.
Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said in an emailed statement that he fired Sgt. Kenneth Pierce on Monday, saying the 22-year police veteran became impatient and needlessly initiated the physical confrontation with the woman, who the police department has not named.
Fitzgerald also released a 12-minute video from the body camera of the rookie officer, Maria Bayona, that he said clearly shows Pierce's behavior was "absolutely unacceptable."
"We are built on a foundation of being problem-solvers. Pierce responded in an opposite manner, and he escalated the situation endangering everyone involved including his fellow officers," Fitzgerald said in the release.
An attorney for Pierce, Terry Daffron, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon with the Fort Worth Police Officers' Association, a union representing Fort Worth officers. Daffron and union officials called Pierce's firing a mistake, saying the call details sent to officers said there was a person with a weapon and noted that the woman had a knife.
The woman told police there was a knife in her purse and directs officers to her purse. Fitzgerald described her behavior as complying with officers.
Daffron said Pierce is appealing the firing.
In the video, the woman, who is black, can be seen holding her license arguing with Bayona, who is asking for her ID. Pierce, who is white, can be seen grabbing her neck, then her hair and pulling her head down to try to get the woman in handcuffs. In the video, he can be heard telling Bayona to "Tase her."
Daffron said Fitzgerald's release of only the body camera video was "cherry-picking" his transparency. She released a recording of the 911 call, the call notes officers were sent and a copy of a use of force report from the review of the incident.
Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Rick Van Houten, a sergeant in the department, said he's worked with Pierce and praised him as an officer well-respected by his peers. Van Houten called the decision to fire Pierce political and said it would have a "chilling effect" on officers already concerned that police brass don't have their backs.
“The facts of this case do not add up to the level of discipline handed down by Chief Fitzgerald, or any discipline, for that matter,” Van Houten said. “In simple terms, Chief Fitzgerald and the chain of command got this wrong.”
Fitzgerald said charges against the woman were dropped after the video and other evidence was reviewed.
Police spokeswoman Paula Fimbres said department officials are still reviewing Bayona's actions including the deployment of her Taser in the August altercation.
Supervisors conducting a mandatory review of officer use of force flagged the incident for review, Fitzgerald said.
Fimbres said the department had tried to contact the woman whose face is blurred in the video to get her statement about the incident for their investigation, including leaving phone messages, mailing letters and leaving information at her address. She said the woman did not respond.
The release from Fitzgerald said he recognized the case was "eerily reminiscent" of an incident in December 2016, where a white Fort Worth officer responding to a report that a neighbor had choked a boy for littering, arrested the boy's mother and sister, who were black. The confrontation between the officer, William Martin, and the mother, Jacqueline Craig, was posted on social media by one of her daughters and was viewed millions of times gaining national attention.