New FWPD brutality case reminds some of Jacqueline Craig

FORT WORTH -- "You have a black woman who called law enforcement for help and instead found herself being brutalized in front of her small children."

Sound familiar in Fort Worth? To Dallas-based attorney Lee Merritt, it definitely does.

"She did the right thing. She called law enforcement, and they treated her immediately like a criminal," Merritt said Tuesday, reflecting on the newest viral police video that may also show excessive force.

The unnamed woman called Fort Worth Police back in August, saying her boyfriend was trying to break down her door. Just minutes after officers arrived, though, it devolved into a combative scene seen on body cam.

"Turn around and give her your ID or you’re going in handcuffs and going to jail," Sgt. Kenneth Pierce is heard saying to the woman off screen.

“My child is here. Don’t touch me," she said. "Get your hands off me!" she continued, as Pierce and another officer, Ofc. Maria Bayona grab the woman to cuff her.

Moments later, after the pair can't get the woman to the ground, Pierce yells, "Taser! Taser!" Ofc. Bayona complies, firing her Taser into the woman's stomach, taking her to the ground.

FWPD said the show of force was too much,and Sgt. Pierce was fired Monday after 22 years of service.

Part of the reason for the termination was that a reviewing officer noted that the affidavits of the responding officers didn't match the body camera footage in multiple places. One example involved the knife the victim told the 9-1-1 operator she had; a fact that was relayed to officers before arriving on scene.

The reviewing officer, Sgt. Davis, wrote:

"It is my belief that after reviewing the body camera footage and 9-1-1 call, that (name redacted) did not commit the offense of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. (Name Redacted) called for police assistance and informed the call taker that she had a knife and would use the knife under specific conditions."

He went on to say:

"At the time that officers arrived on scene, video evidence shows that (name redacted) told officers she had the knife and Officer Bayona located the knife immediately after (name redacted) provided her with her purse."

That runs counter to Ofc. Bayona's report:

"I asked (name redacted) if she had the knife that she mentioned to the 9-1-1 call taker; she was being uncooperative and refusing to provide me with details. Due to not knowing where the knife was and her being uncooperative for officer safety reasons, I attempted to detain her with handcuffs, but she refused and pulled away from me."

"Just because you've taken one weapon away, you have to assume there's another weapon," Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Richard Van Houten said Tuesday when asked if a subject is still considered dangerous after a weapon is removed. "One of the things you'll see in that video is that one of the officers did get a handcuff on her wrist. If that wrist breaks free, that handcuff is now a weapon."

The FWPOA held a press conference Tuesday to condemn the decision to fire Sgt. Pierce.

"The officers reacted in a manner consistent with our policies, procedures, and our training," Van Houten said. "For Sergeant Pierce to be terminated is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice."

When asked if Sgt. Pierce, who arrived on the scene after the woman's knife was already taken, escalated the situation with his arrival, Van Houten said, "Actually, I believe Sgt. Pierce ended the situation as quickly as possible, and in the end, the female was not hurt. Everybody got to walk away from that situation."

It's hard not to draw the comparisons between this case and the case where Ofc. William Martin was found guilty of using excessive force on Jacqueline Craig last year. In fact, Craig's incident happened December 21, a year ago this Thursday.

Sgt. Pierce's lawyer, Terry Daffron, feels that's a ploy by Fort Worth Police Chief, Joel Fitzgerald.

"I don't think the termination of Sergeant Pierce is coincidental this week since it's the one year anniversary of the Martin incident," she said. "I think it's a travesty and inappropriate that the Chief made the decision this week and made the link between the two because these cases could not be more vastly different."

Lee Merritt is one of Craig's attorneys, and he feels, while the two cases are different, FWPD still made the correct move.

"That is a step in the right direction, but it also shows what should’ve happened in the Craig case," he said. "What happened to Ms. Craig was more severe. She was taunted by Ofc. William Martin, and her daughters were brutalized too."

While Craig is still fighting in court, Merritt says the key to lower the number of police brutality cases isn't more training or a more diverse police force. The answer is using punishment when officers do the wrong thing.

"If you start prosecuting officers for misconduct, then they will stop doing it," he said. "Their own freedom is on the line when they say, 'Is this the right time for me to pull this trigger?'"

As of now, no one involved in either incident is facing charges.