City of Fort Worth fires Joel Fitzgerald as police chief

After months of questions about his future, city officials announced on Monday that Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald has been fired.

Fitzgerald first told FOX 4 via text message that he had been fired after he refused to resign. When asked about the reason given for his firing, he said: “none that’s credible.”

During a press conference, Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke confirmed the news and announced he had fired Fitzgerald because "a change in leadership was necessary for the citizens of Fort Worth and the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department."

Cooke explained there were several issues that raised questions about the chief's judgment. He said he had been working with Fitzgerald on some issues with his leadership since he was flirting with the idea of taking a job as the Baltimore Police Department Commissioner in the fall.

Fitzgerald had been tapped back in November as the lone finalist for the job. At the time, the Baltimore Sun Newspaper said it found Fitzgerald overstated some of his accomplishments in Fort Worth and in his previous job in Pennsylvania.

The NAACP then raised concerns over his fitness for the job in a letter to the Baltimore City Council. Fitzgerald ended up pulling himself out of the running for the job, stating he withdrew himself after receiving positive support from the Fort Worth community.

More recently, The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas removed Fitzgerald as a member ten days ago. CLEAT stated that “instead of joining his local union, which is constitutionally required, the chief attempted to bypass regular protocol and joined the statewide organization by bank draft.”

The city manager said on Monday he did his due diligence in investigating that incident between CLEAT and Fitzgerald in D.C. and says that was the breaking point in their decision to fire the chief. He said it was a decision city officials made at the end of last week.

“I’m sure one of the questions is, ‘Is this action today based on the recent incident in Washington D.C.?’ As an isolated incident? No. As a culmination of items? Yes,” Cooke said. “There are certainly several versions of what happened in Washington, D.C. and the extent of how heated the incident or confrontation was or wasn’t. Nonetheless, there was an incident and it brings again in to question judgment in leadership.”

Through his attorney, Fitzgerald claims the only reason he was fired was because of a memo he sent to city leaders in December raising concerns that the city is in violation of federal regulations that allow the city access to the FBI's criminal justice information system. It gives police access to fingerprints, DNA, criminal records and more.

Attorney Stephen Kennedy says Fitzgerald was worried the FBI would revoke the department's access to the system.

"And because he reported them, the city then started looking for a reason to silence the man and get rid of him,” Kennedy said.

Ed Kraus has been named the interim Fort Worth police chief.

Fort Worth Police Association President Manny Ramirez says police are saddened to lose Fitzgerald but are looking forward to working with Kraus.

"I know that there's been controversy swirling in the recent weeks and recent months,” Ramirez said. “And our officers will continue to do their jobs.”

Minister and activist Kyev Tatum is a Fitzgerald supporter and is less optimistic.

"God as our witness, Fort Worth is going to suffer because Chief Fitzgerald is not our police chief,” Tatum said.

The police chief most recently made an appearance alongside Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on Sunday during a press conference about Salem Sabatka, the 8-year-old who was kidnapped but found safe over the weekend. The police chief was welcome to the podium with applause from the crowd.

Cooke says Mayor Price was not involved in the decision to fire Fitzgerald, but Price did release a statement this afternoon stating she supports the city manager’s decision.

Fitzgerald's attorney is sending a formal letter to the city manager for an administrative appeal of his firing.

Cooke says the city will work within the coming months to hire a new police chief.

Fitzgerald had been with Fort Worth PD since Oct. 2015. Before coming to Fort Worth, Fitzgerald served as the police chief in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Missouri City, Texas.