The Fort Worth police chief is standing behind his decision to terminate an officer who fired shots into a suspect’s car.
The association representing Fort Worth police officers is lashing out at Chief Joel Fitzgerald after he fired a probationary police officer.
Last week, Officer Lena Mino conducted a traffic stop and determined the owner of the car had outstanding felony warrants. She reportedly told the driver to turn off the vehicle, but he did not comply. She drew her weapon and an “accidental discharge” led to a chase and standoff.
"This driver refused to take the vehicle out of drive, revved the engine and fleed officer Mino,” claimed Manny Ramirez with the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. “The driver turned his tires and pulled off quickly which, in the heat of the moment, startled officer Mino and she fired a round from her service weapon. She struck the vehicle but did not strike any passengers or injure any person and there was no damage done."
The police department issued a statement in response, contradicting Mino’s version of what she says happened.
“The Fort Worth Police Department has an established policy prohibiting officers from employing deadly force by shooting into vehicles unless the vehicle poses an immediate threat to that officer (or someone else),” police said in a statement. “In this instance, the vehicle slowly drove away from the officer and posed no immediate threat to the officer.”
The association says the suspect evaded arrest and was captured after randomly selecting and overtaking a family's home.
Officer Mino, who was just hours away from completing her one-year probationary period, was fired without the possibility of appeal.
The Fort Worth Police Officers Association believes the chief rushed to judgment and violated Officer Mino’s due process rights by terminating her. The association is angry about the message it sends to the rank and file.
“The chief of police determined in five days after a rushed and incomplete investigation that Officer Mino’s alleged violations of department policy warranted the termination of her employment,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes the discharge of firearms occurs unconventionally. There are officers in the detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, even command ranks that have taken the same actions and acted in the same manner as Officer Mino and some have received no more than a verbal counseling session or a written reprimand for discipline.”
Ramirez called the discipline premature and irresponsible. He claims it was rushed because Officer Mino was just seven hours away from completing her probationary period.
Every officer that graduates from the Fort Worth police academy is placed on probation for a year, allowing the department to evaluate their ability to use that training on the streets. Afterward, they qualify for civil service protection and earned the right to arbitration while facing disciplinary action.
The department said although the officer displayed character and acknowledged that she made a mistake, she violated the department’s use of force policy.
“As has been reported recently, the misapplication of deadly force has been a serious issue in law enforcement. Our police department considers the use of force, specifically deadly force, a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly,” Fort Worth PD said. “FWPD officers know this because we have enacted strict policies governing encounters that warrant the use of force. Officers receive extensive training in these areas because of the irreversible consequences that can result for all involved when something goes wrong. We owe it to those we protect and those we serve alongside to ensure when our officers use force they do so within policy and place an emphasis upon the sanctity of human life.”
Mino’s attorney says it was a rush to judgment and the officer deserves her job back. She cannot appeal because she was still a probationary officer.