Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald — who was nominated in November to be Baltimore’s top cop but withdrew his name less than two months later — was fired Monday amid questions of his “judgment and leadership,” Texas officials announced.
Fitzgerald had been former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice to oversee the Baltimore police department but withdrew his name from consideration when he said his son became ill. Fitzgerald remained as the chief in Fort Worth until Monday when City Manager David Cooke announced Fitzgerald’s termination.
In a letter to Fitzgerald, Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa wrote that Fitzgerald has “a track record of making decisions that are more focused on your best interest instead of the best interest of the city, the organization or department as a whole.”
Fitzgerald had a “heated encounter” with a police union representative at a National Police Week gathering May 12 in Washington, D.C., according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram news story. Sgt. Todd Harrison, president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told the newspaper “there was no physical contact in the dispute, just inappropriate behavior from a leader in front of a large crowd that was at [an] event honoring police officers and survivors.”
Chapa wrote that during that event, Fitzgerald’s conduct “escalated, rather than deescalated, the conflict between you and the state police union.”
The confrontation came after Fitzgerald was suspended from a state police union. The state union said it was because he’d joined the state police union without being a member of his local union.
Cooke said the incident, in addition to Fitzgerald being nominated by Pugh, left the community and some within the department with questions about his “commitment and leadership.”
Chapa wrote that Fitzgerald also failed to develop relationships with department officials and employees, accepted the position of Baltimore’s police chief “without considering how that news would impact your organization and the community,” and alleged discrimination while “refusing to move forward with investigations to address your allegations.”
“In determining what is best for the City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Police Department I have decided to remove Chief Fitzgerald as Police Chief effective today,” Cooke said in a statement.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a statement that she supported Cooke’s decision.
“Our citizens deserve a police chief who is committed to building relationships in all communities, by furthering trust and transparency,” Price said. “Our police officers, who risk their lives daily for our community, deserve a leader who will be present, active, and engaged.”