A Fort Worth police officer is getting his job back after being fired for ordering excessive force against an unarmed woman who’d called 911 for help.
Sgt. Kenneth Pierce, a 22-year police veteran, was fired in late 2017 for an incident in which he ordered a rookie officer to use a Taser on Dorshay Morris and arrest her. Morris had called the police during a dispute with her boyfriend.
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said in 2017 that Pierce had unnecessarily escalated the situation. He compared it to the arrest of Jacqueline Craig by a Fort Worth officer, a video of which went viral in 2016. Pierce is white; Morris is black.
Pierce challenged his firing, and at a brief hearing on Wednesday, an administrative examiner reinstated him. That came after Pierce reached an agreement with the city, according to his lawyer, Terry Daffron.
The deal revises his punishment for the arrest to a 35-day unpaid suspension for failure to supervise, which he’s already served, and drops allegations that he made an unlawful arrest and violated the department’s use of force policy. In addition, Pierce agreed to drop all appeals of the department’s decision to pass him over for a promotion to lieutenant.
“He is happy. He’s just glad to be coming back. It’s been a very long year for him,” Daffron said.
Because Pierce has been out of work for more than a year, he’s already served that 35-day suspension, so he could be back at work in less than a week, Daffron said. He’ll also receive backpay for the rest of the time that he was not working.
Morris and a handful of supporters attended the hearing at Fort Worth police headquarters.
“No justice has been done,” Morris said. She says that he doesn't deserve to get his job back.
In August 2017, Morris called 911 to her east Fort Worth apartment, saying her boyfriend was trying to break down her door. She told the operator she had a knife to defend herself from him.
In body camera video, responding officers are seen separating the fighting couple and a rookie officer tries to calm Morris and establish what’s happening. Pierce arrived to the scene later, and grew frustrated when Morris was reluctant to show her license to the police, telling her to hand it over “or you’re getting handcuffs and going to jail.”
Pierce ordered the rookie to use a Taser on Morris, and arrested her. Morris’ charges were dropped.
After an investigation, Fitzgerald announced in December 2017 that Pierce would be indefinitely suspended, and called his actions “absolutely unacceptable.” In a statement at the time, Fitzgerald said Pierce had “escalated the situation, endangering everyone involved including his fellow officers.”
Rick Van Houten, who was then the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, argued that the level of force used was in line with department procedures, and reasonable given the volatility of domestic violence incidents.
After Pierce appealed his firing, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson was asked to review the incident. Her office determined that Pierce's actions weren't criminal. That prompted a deal to be reached with Pierce, according to a city spokesperson and his reinstatement.
A statement released Wednesday and attributed to Fitzgerald and City Manager David Cooke said “it is critically important to the city that Fort Worth police officers operate in a professional manner that is consistent with departmental expectations,” adding that “these matters are now closed.”
Morris’ lawyer, Jasmine Crockett, told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that if her client were a white woman, or wealthy, the case would have played out differently. Crockett and other community activists called on voters to replace local elected leaders in May municipal elections.
“We just want every citizen, no matter what color, no matter how much money you do or don’t have, to be treated fairly. And let me tell you today, this was unfair,” Crockett said.
Morris plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city arguing that Pierce violated her civil rights.