Ex-Fort Worth Police Chief Says He Was Fired for Investigating City Hall Corruption - NBC Southern California
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Ex-Fort Worth Police Chief Says He Was Fired for Investigating City Hall Corruption

'They didn't want that to happen," fired chief Joel Fitzgerald says

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    Former Fort Worth Police Chief Says He Was Fired for Investigating City Hall Corruption

    Former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said Sunday he’s a whistleblower who was fired within hours of meeting with the FBI about city hall corruption. (Published Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019)

    Former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said Sunday he's a whistleblower who was fired within hours of meeting with the FBI about city hall corruption.

    In his first interview since his termination in May, Fitzgerald spoke about his lawsuit in which he asks for his job back and details a police investigation he said he ordered into unauthorized city employees allowed to access a sensitive federal law enforcement database.

    "I was terminated because I was giving information -- about to meet with the FBI," Fitzgerald said. "They didn't want that to happen."

    The former chief said FBI agents were provided with information on an inquiry by a special unit in the police department which typically investigates allegations of criminal wrongdoing by officers.

    "You can hear a lot in city hall (about corruption), but you can't prove a lot unless you have witnesses," he said. "I had a witness."

    Fitzgerald's lawyer, Stephen Kennedy of Dallas, also represents two other fired city computer workers who also claim to be whistleblowers.

    Fitzgerald said the two provided important information before they were fired.

    There's no indication the FBI has launched a formal inquiry and Fitzgerald said he doesn't know the status of the case -- either at the FBI or inside the police department.

    Fitzgerald blamed top city managers of trying to cover up wrongdoing regarding the unauthorized computer access.

    "And it's time to drain that swamp," he said. "People are angry. People want change. Much like Washington, D.C., people say drain the swamp. Let's take a real hard look at what the city of Fort Worth is doing."

    Mayor Betsy Price and City Manager David Cooke have said there's nothing to Fitzgerald's whistleblower claims and added they're confident they'll win in court.

    When Cooke terminated Fitzgerald, he mentioned nothing about any investigation involving city hall.

    Cooke said managers had lost confidence in Fitzgerald's leadership, listed a number of reasons, and questioned his loyalty to Fort Worth after he applied to be top cop in Baltimore.

    Meanwhile, Fitzgerald – Fort Worth's first African-American police chief -- described race relations in the city as "very tense" after a rash of shootings by officers since he left.

    The highest profile case was the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson last month. The officer, Aaron Dean, resigned and was charged with murder.

    "The minute I walk out the door, there's 10 successive police shootings," Fitzgerald said. "There's no coincidence to that. It is very sad."

    Fitzgerald said if he is reinstated as chief, race relations would improve.

    "It makes me uncomfortable to know that people come up to city council and say that they don't feel safe in Fort Worth," he said. "And it goes across every demographic. That's something I'd like to see stop. I think being back in position as police chief would help with that."

    He added he supports more police oversight.

    City leaders are moving forward with a plan to hire a new police monitor and a separate review of the police department ordered after Jefferson's shooting, but have resisted creating a larger citizen review board.

    "I am in favor of a civilian review board," Fitzgerald said. "I'm in favor of citizens being able to look over the actions that police officers take and the police chief takes."

    Assistant Chief Ed Kraus was named interim chief after Fitzgerald's ouster.

    The city is under a temporary court order not to name a permanent chief.

    Fitzgerald said when he was fired, city managers offered him a large severance if he resigned and agreed not to talk publicly.

    He refused and hasn’t been able to find a new job because of the controversy, he said.

    "In the world of law enforcement, there's no disloyalty in telling the truth. There’s no disloyalty when you’re exposing something that’s corrupt,” he said. “Would I do it all over again? I certainly would."