The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project keeps tabs on a wide range of misconduct. Whether the misbehavior is excessive force on duty or a DWI off duty, we catalog the event and track the officer’s case goes through the administrative, civil, or criminal justice systems. Part of the reason we do this is to show whether police departments and other responsible government agencies are holding their officers accountable.
Depending on local laws and union contracts, police leadership can be limited in how much punishment they can dole out for a given offense. However, when a crime appears to have been committed and the police simply administer minor officer discipline, it sends a message that officers can act above the law. This message is amplified when officers who exposed that potentially criminal behavior are punished more severely than the offending officer.
This seems to be the case in Fort Worth, Texas. Two senior officers, Assistant Chief Abdul Pridgen and Deputy Chief Vance Keyes, have been demoted for allegedly leaking camera footage of their fellow officer, William Martin, violently attacking a woman who had called police for help after her son was assaulted. The video went viral, and Martin was suspended for ten days.
The attorney for the woman who was attacked and arrested, Jacqueline Craig, had this to say:
“[Officer] Martin amassed a series of felonies on that day from assault, to aggravated assault, to perjury, official corruption, false arrest [and] to each of these he received no criminal investigation, no criminal prosecution. He received a 10-day vacation and he was returned to the force with a scheduled promotion,” [Lee] Merritt said. “It’s a sad day for the city of Fort Worth. The level of blatant racism and unapologetic hypocrisy should no longer be tolerated and so we take this stand together today.”
Such retribution against senior officers who appear to have acted as whistleblowers will almost certainly have a chilling effect on reporting misconduct within the department. Moreover, it tells the people of Fort Worth–especially those in minority communities–that police violence against them is a less serious offense than exposing misconduct by fellow officers.
At least one of the officers reported that he plans to sue over this discipline. We’ll keep an eye on this story as it continues.
You can read the full report of the incident here.