Fort Worth task force discusses 2016 controversial arrest

Following the controversial arrest of a black mother and her children, the city of Fort Worth created a task force on race and culture to try and fix race relations with the city and its citizens.

And this month's meeting, there were two high profile incidents came to the forefront, including the 2016 arrest of a just-released hospital patient who was kicked and choked by an off-duty Fort Worth police officer. That officer wasn't indicted until just last month.

The Race and Culture Task Force was formed after the Jacqueline Craig viral video arrest.

At Monday’s meeting, members were once again questioning the stability of race relations in the wake of the two most recent use of force incidents.

Bob Ray Sanders, the co-chair of the task force, had criticism and questions about the investigation into Fort Worth Police Officer John Romer.

Romer was indicted in March for official oppression and perjury related to a November 2016 incident in the lobby of Harris Methodist Hospital. He was off-duty at the time and seen on a hospital security officer's body camera punching and then choking Henry Newson, a patient who had just been discharged.

Newson was arrested for trespassing. Those charges were dropped. But the chief wasn't made aware of the incident until more than a year after it happened, prompting him to discipline the supervisor who didn't notify command staff and forcing the department to wait until after Romer's trial to determine discipline.

"He didn't handle it fast enough, in my opinion,” Sanders said. “That case should not have taken 18 months to get through a grand jury."

Chief Joel Fitzgerald says he has made changes internally to notify command staff earlier on use of force incidents.

"I want to make sure that people in the city can trust that the police department can investigate themselves and can discipline when need be and exonerate when need be,” the chief said.

The task force was also briefed on an arrest from two weeks ago where a video shot by a passerby sparked outrage from community groups. In it, one of five officers trying to arrest Forrest Curry is seen punching Curry. Almost immediately, police released body cam video and called the punches distractionary strikes to get him to release his hands.

Sanders wondered if the department would release videos just as quickly even if it reflects poorly on an officer.

“Release the tape. Let us judge it,” Sander said. “And then you can come back and tell us what you think or what you think we didn't see or should be seeing."

"If something is going right, I love to hear those stories,” Fitzgerald said. “But I need to hear when something's broken or I can't fix it."

The task force will make recommendations on potential changes it thinks the city needs to make to improve race relations at the end of the year.

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