Neighbor in viral Fort Worth arrest video heads to court

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A Fort Worth man accused of choking a boy in what eventually became a high-profile case headed to court on Tuesday.

Jacqueline Craig called police in December of 2016 to report her son had been choked by her neighbor, Itamar Vardi. When an officer arrived, the situation escalated. Craig and her two daughters were eventually arrested.

Afterward, video of their arrests went viral. The charges were dropped and the officer was suspended.

Vardi was cited for assault by contact. During his trial for the misdemeanor, he pleaded not guilty to the citation he got after being accused of choking Craig's 9-year-old son. He was 8 at the time. The judge is not allowing audio from the courtroom.

Craig's 9-year-old son and his 12-year-old sister were walking home from school together the day it happened. They both testified on Tuesday.

The siblings told the jury the 9-year-old dropped raisins on the sidewalk near where Vardi was painting his fence. Both children say Vardi grabbed the boy by the back of the neck and forced him down toward the sidewalk and made him pick up the raisins.

Vardi has chosen to let a jury decide his case. His attorney says he only put his hand on the child's shoulder and asked him to pick up the raisins.

Craig's attorney, Lee Merritt, says the family was denied justice when Vardi wasn't charged with a felony.

"Whatever happens in this trial will be short of the standard of justice that citizens should expect in the state of Texas,” Merritt said. “I think the evidence will go forward. There’s so much evidence that will sort of overwhelm the relatively mundane process and it should be an easy conviction.”

William Martin, the officer who arrested Craig and her daughters, is not expected to testify in the trial. He served a 10-day suspension after the police chief viewed the videos. Jacqueline Craig still insists Martin should have been fired.

If Vardi is convicted in municipal court, he could get a $500 fine. Merritt says he could have faced up to 99 years in prison in felony court.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning.