Fort Worth police chief drops bid for Baltimore job

The Fort Worth police chief no longer wants to be considered to lead the Baltimore Police Department.

Chief Joel Fitzgerald was tapped back in November as the lone finalist for the Baltimore police commissioner role.

But he faced growing opposition from city leaders and community activists in Baltimore. Over the weekend, the NAACP raised concerns about him being fit for the job in a letter to the Baltimore City Council.

The letter came after The Baltimore Sun reported that Fitzgerald overstated some of his accomplishments in Fort Worth and in his previous job in Allentown, Penn.

The chief, though, said his decision to withdraw came after he reflected on the positive support he has received from the people of Fort Worth.

"The decision to withdraw from the Baltimore process came down to this, I reflected upon the tremendous outpouring of heartfelt support I received here over the last few months. Our community communicated this to me, even before this medical emergency occurred, but it was reinforced then after knowing there was a possibility I could leave. Their support never wavered and may have intensified,” he said in a statement sent to FOX 4. “There’s literally nowhere I go in this city of almost 900k residents where someone doesn’t corner me to say first, 'Hey chief, your Eagles stink, and by the way, you’re still needed and loved here in Fort Worth.' I will now focus on my child’s next bout of brain surgery, and being home with family, my FWPD family...and this awesome community."

Fitzgerald, who is from the Philadelphia area, has responded in recent days to a medical emergency with his 13-year-old son. He said he wants to be home with his family to focus on his son’s next bout of brain surgery that will happen in a day or so.

He never resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department and presumably will continue in his role. The city said it is giving him time to deal with his family emergency and then will work with him on a plan for the future.

"The City of Fort Worth has been very patient and supportive throughout this awkward approval process, with Chief Fitzgerald and the City of Baltimore. We understand that Chief Fitzgerald is dealing with a family emergency and we are providing him the opportunity to take the time he needs to spend with his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. When the time is right, we look forward to working with him to understand his desire to fully commit to the work here in Fort Worth," the city said in a statement.

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke admits it’s been an awkward past several months with Fitzgerald vying for the Baltimore position. He says now that Fitzgerald is staying put, the questions surrounding the chief's commitment to leading Fort Worth PD are valid ones.

"We just need to let the situation with his family play out. That's just the respectful thing to do,” Cooke said. “And then just sit down and make sure there's a commitment for Fort Worth for a long tenure."

A coalition of Fort Worth ministers extended prayers for Fitzgerald after he withdrew his name from the Baltimore police commissioner selection process.

"The reality is in every department he's gone into he's made considerable improvements. He's made some innovative improvements. That's what we're looking at,” said Reverend Kyev Tatum. "We are grateful to God we still have Chief Fitzgerald.”

Community activist Bob Ray Sanders acknowledges Baltimore leaders have called into question Fitzgerald's resume, mentioning alleged exaggerations with his accomplishments in Fort Worth. 

Sanders says community groups have contacted him with concerns about issues including how Fitzgerald handled the 2016 excessive force claims involving an officer responding to resident Jacquelyn Craig. 

"They were concerned about perhaps other cases where there was alleged police brutality and how the chief handled those issues,” Sanders said. “The ACLU in Baltimore and the NAACP questioned his commitment to the community and fair policing overall."

Of course, it means the search for a police commissioner in Baltimore will begin again.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned in May, after being charged with failing to pay his taxes. Gary Tuggle has since been serving as interim commissioner.

Fitzgerald would have been the city’s fourth police commissioner in one year and the fifth in four years.