Police union defends fired Fort Worth officer's use of force

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A Fort Worth police union is going after the police chief for firing a veteran officer he claimed was out of line when arresting a woman and ordering a rookie officer to tase her. They claim the officer was used as a pawn in the chief’s “political agenda.”

Body cam video was released on Monday of the August incident that resulted in the firing of FWPD Sgt. Kenneth Pierce, a 22-year veteran of the department. But the officer’s attorney is asking why the chief didn't release the other evidence he had, including the 911 call and a report of the department's ‘use of force’ expert who said the officer did not violate policy.                  

The department says Pierce and a rookie officer were responding to a woman’s call about a domestic disturbance when the sergeant became impatient with the woman who wouldn’t comply and was tased.

The body cam video was identified through the department's mandatory internal review. Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald concluded that Pierce used “excessive force” and fired. He was notified on Monday that he was out of a job.

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association and Pierce’s attorney defended his actions Tuesday afternoon during a press conference. They say he did nothing wrong and only acted within the scope of his duties. The police union says the officers were uncertain whether the woman could cause them harm since she was non-compliant, combative and had a weapon in her possession.

“Chief Fitzgerald and the chain of command got this one wrong,” said FWPOA President Rick Van Houten.

The police union released the woman’s 911 call; something the police department did not do. They pointed out it reveals the woman admitted to having a knife and threatened to use it.

"I believe it's extremely important not to cherry pick your transparency,” said Terry Daffron, a FWPOA attorney who is representing Pierce.

In the firing letter to the Civil Service Commission, the chief said the arrest for failing to provide ID was unlawful and that any use of force in that situation was unreasonable. The knife was taken from the woman before the scuffle. But the union says the officers still have to treat any situation when a knife was involved seriously.

“Just because you have taken one weapon away, you have to assume there is another weapon,” Van Houten said.

Pierce's attorney also released the “use of force” report done by a department expert. It found "the force used against [the woman] was well within the FWPD use of force policy and falls in line with what is commonly taught to both recruits and incumbents."

“There's nothing that prohibited the chief from releasing the 911 call or the call details,” Daffon said. “But it was a conscious decision for him not to do so.”

The police union says it will file an appeal on the sergeant’s behalf in an effort to get him reinstated.

In the meantime, a group of Fort Worth pastors say the video further highlights the issue of racial disparity regarding Fort Worth PD and the black community. They support the chief's decision to fire the officer and reiterate that this type of force is not isolated, noting a similar use of force incident involving Jacqueline Craig and Officer William Martin.

In a statement, Chief Fitzgerald called the officers' response and subsequent behavior completely unacceptable and that it does not reflect the vast majority of the department's encounters with the public.

The attorney representing Pierce says they believe the timing of the firing by Chief Fitzgerald is not coincidental after he faced great criticism one year ago for not firing Officer Martin in a similar use of force incident involving Craig.