Judge: Fort Worth allowed to hunt for new police chief

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Judge

A judge said Thursday that Fort Worth may search for a new police chief to replace former chief Joel Fitzgerald, who is suing the city after he was forced out, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The order from State District Judge Gena Slaughter overturns her previous temporary injunction blocking the city from hiring a new chief while Fitzgerald’s lawsuit is pending.  However, she chided the city, saying the “timing of this smells.” 

Slaughter pointed to two performance evaluations offered to Fitzgerald for his signature that were both about a year late, and she said the city didn’t adequately investigate a confrontation between Fitzgerald and a police union official at a conference in Washington, D.C., that city administrators cite as a major reason they asked for Fitzgerald’s resignation.

“I’m seriously concerned about the behavior of the city’s officials,” Slaughter said, according to the News.

She also described City Manager David Cooke’s testimony as questionable and said the city’s charter is confusing and ambiguous, the News reported.

City Attorney Carolyn McFatridge said the judge only got a “Readers Digest” version of the case and she is confident jurors would come to a different conclusion.

A spokeswoman for the city told the newspaper that the search for a new chief hasn’t started yet. Ed Kraus is serving as interim chief. 

“The city manager needs to run the business, and the court does not need to be in the middle of that,” McFatridge said. “This will allow the city manager and the city council to run the business of the city and the police department in the way they see that’s best for our citizens.”

Fitzgerald’s attorney, Stephen Kennedy, said he’s ready to go to trial. Fitzgerald’s whistleblower lawsuit against the city alleges he was fired for trying to report to the FBI that city employees were making unauthorized use of a federal criminal database. Two former Fort Worth information technology workers who were fired have filed similar lawsuits.

Fitzgerald seeks his job back, in the lawsuit.

“Judging by what you heard in the courtroom today, her chastising the city for the way things were done here will play well in the future for us,” Fitzgerald said. “I think again, we’re looking at a jury of our peers and again, I think anyone who looks at this critically … might think we deserve another shot.”

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