He’s been embattled for quite some time, although now-fired Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald will tell you that’s not true.
Either way, he’s out of a job.
This, after a heated confrontation in Washington, D.C. and failed attempt to get a job in Baltimore.
On Monday, Fitzgerald was canned. It’s a move that City Manager David Cooke said was necessary for the citizens of Fort Worth and the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department.
“As the city manager for the city of Fort Worth, it is my responsibility to make decisions and recommendations in the best interest of this community,” Cooke said Monday at a 3:30 p.m. press conference. “Today, I’ve made the decision to remove Joel Fitzgerald as the chief of police for the Fort Worth Police Department.”
While they search for a new chief, Executive Assistant Chief Edwin Kraus has been designated as interim chief of police.
According to Fitzgerald, he was told about the move on Monday afternoon and wasn’t given any warning. While he won’t share details of the conversation, he said the reason given was “nothing that is in any way valid.”
“I’m not going to get into it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just going to make sure I get an attorney involved and just do things the right way.”
That attorney is Stephen Kennedy, a lawyer based out of Dallas. Kennedy said he plans to file a formal letter with the city’s attorney to seek an administrative appeal. The attorney is also representing an IT manager who was recently fired and is now suing the city.
“Chief Fitzgerald had scheduled an appointment with the FBI (Monday) at approximately 3 PM to report more city violations of the Criminal Justice Information Systems Act,” Kennedy said. “It is no coincidence that the City decided to terminate him one day after his department celebrated a major arrest in a criminal case.”
According to Kennedy, the city needed to silence Fitzgerald because he was going to blow the whistle on the violations.
“By terminating him early in the afternoon, they did so,” Kennedy said. “This was a bad idea.”
But there’s more to it than the attorney says, and according to Cooke – Monday wasn’t the first the chief had heard about it.
He said conversations had been happening last week about firing the chief, and that Fitzgerald was given an opportunity to resign. Fitzgerald, who didn’t have a contract, obviously didn’t resign.
Cooke said he assumes every employee has a chance to appeal, but also said Fitzgerald would not qualify for severance because he was fired with cause.
No word on how long it will be until a permanent chief is named.
The firing didn’t come as a surprise to many, after Fitzgerald was kicked out of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas a few weeks back. On top of that, just last week he had a heated encounter in Washington, D.C. with the state union’s president.
And just a few months ago, Fitzgerald had a failed bid to become a top police commissioner in the Baltimore Police Department.
His relationship with city administrators was SO strained, in fact, that in late 2018 he wrote a letter accusing his supervisors of discrimination, alleging negative evaluations were the product of racial bias.
The letter was dated December 24. In it, he claimed he received two “negatively worded” performance evaluations. He says they came just days after he told the city manager and assistant city manager about audit findings from the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding the city’s compliance with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
But that letter was never sent to the city manager’s office or the human relations department.
A records request from the Star-Telegram found that instead, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Fitzgerald sent the letter from his work email to a private email account.
Battle in D.C.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price asked city management last week to look into the battle between Fitzgerald and the president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas that took place in Washington, D.C.
According to Cooke, that encounter was part of why he decided to fire Fitzgerald, but was also a combination of many factors.
That confrontation took place May 12 after an awards banquet and dinner as part of National Police Week.
Fitzgerald claims he had approached Todd Harrison to have a “civil” discussion about a news release from the state law enforcement union earlier this month that he deemed “libelous.”
Fitzgerald claims he didn’t act inappropriate during the confrontation. That “inappropriateness” was alleged by Harrison and Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
Fitzerald was asked if Cooke had referenced the confrontation when he fired the chief. Fitzgerald responded:
“I can tell you that witnesses weren’t contacted.”
He claims they didn’t properly investigate the claims.
“They were there with numerous troops of theirs that obviously saw things differently, but the city did not contact them,” Fitzgerald said.
Ramirez, for his part, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that the incident in Washington was cited among reasons the chief was fired.
“I would imagine it would be,” Ramirez said. “When you’re a chief of police and you represent an entire department, that’s just inappropriate in any case.”
Here’s what those who witnessed the incident in Washington told Cooke. He said:
“There was an incident, nobody disputes that, regardless of how heated it got … the issue is it was an incident that involved the police chief dealing with an issue that really was a personal issue with the head of the State Association of CLEAT. Our conversations with the chief at different times has been, ‘You are always the chief of police. You are always representing the City of Fort Worth.’ That was probably not the right time to take on that issue.”
The Failed Baltimore Job Bid
In October, Price announced that Fitzgerald had been interviewed for an open police commissioner job in Baltimore.
When asked about whether Fitzgerald’s bid for that job played a role in his firing, Cooke said:
“There were some issues before then that we talked about during performance evaluations”.
He would not, however, talk in detail about the evaluations.
The Baltimore Sun previously reported that during his interviews in Baltimore, Fitzgerald overstated his Fort Worth achievements in a résumé he submitted during his application for the police commissioner position.
After that report, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh decided to postpone community meetings with Fitzgerald. Those postponements, according to the newspaper, cited a family medical emergency for the chief — his son was undergoing brain surgeries.
But then in January, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund demanded the mayor to withdraw her nomination of Fitzgerald. Days later, he withdrew his name from consideration.
Price released a statement about bridging the gap with an interim chief:
“I am in full support of our city manager’s decision to terminate Joel Fitzgerald as chief of police. These decisions are never made lightly, and I am confident we have reached the right conclusion for both our citizens and our police officers. Our citizens deserve a police chief who is committed to building relationships in all communities, by furthering trust and transparency. Our police officers, who risk their lives daily for our community, deserve a leader who will be present, active, and engaged.”
Fitzgerald has been with the department since he was sworn in as Fort Worth chief in October 2015. Prior to that, he had served as police chief in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Kraus, who is the new interim chief, started his career in 1992 with the Fort Worth Police Department.
According to a news release, he has served as an officer, detective and sergeant in several units in the Patrol Bureau.
He has extensive command experience, includes assignments as a Neighborhood Policing District lieutenant, a Patrol Division captain, commander of the Training Division, and deputy chief over the Investigative and Support Command.
Most recently, Kraus oversaw the Patrol Bureau.
Ramirez thanked Fitzgerald for his service.
“I would like to thank him for everything he’s done for Fort Worth. We look forward to the new leadership and whatever that brings,” he said.
Apparently Fitzgerald said “I meant it” when he had pulled his name from consideration for the Baltimore job, and says he wanted to remain Fort Worth chief.
Besides hiring an attorney, he says his only other immediate plans are to “just be with my family.”