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Dallas cops, residents march in protest of officer’s firing

Chief David Brown fired officer last month after commanders decided he used excessive force while arresting a panhandler in an incident captured on video

By Tristan Hallman
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Dozens of Deep Ellum residents and off-duty cops showed support Wednesday at Dallas City Hall for a fired police officer — and found allies on the City Council.

The protesters marched into the building and packed the council’s chambers. Most wore shirts that bore the image of former Dallas

Officer Jesus Martinez. Council members Philip Kingston, Scott Griggs and Adam Medrano, who represents the Deep Ellum area, also wore the #SaveJesus T-shirts underneath their sport coats.

Chief David Brown fired Martinez last month after commanders decided he used excessive force while arresting a panhandler in Deep Ellum in June.

But protest organizer Stephanie Johnson, a photographer, extolled Martinez’s virtues as an officer to council members.

“Jesus Martinez is not just a good cop,” she said. “Jesus Martinez is the kind of officer you wish you could fill a force with.”

Johnson and the protesters hope their demonstration will pressure City Manager A.C. Gonzalez to reinstate Martinez if he appeals his termination. Martinez, who has been charged with misdemeanor official oppression in connection with the incident, must have his criminal case resolved before he can appeal.

“Simply put, we want our officer back,” Johnson said. “He is an invaluable part of our community and the city of Dallas as a whole.”

Gonzalez did not address the group. He could not be reached for comment later.

Part of the June confrontation that led to Martinez’s firing was recorded by a passerby on a cellphone video. Martinez is seen in the video sitting on top of the panhandler, Joe Wesson, and pushing his arms back. Wesson can be heard crying out in pain for several minutes until Martinez’s backup arrives.

Wesson, 57, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Martinez and the city. Wesson alleges Martinez followed him for no reason, threatened him and suddenly attacked him. But Martinez said in an arrest warrant affidavit that Wesson started the fight.

Martinez’s supporters say a fog of pepper spray used by the officer left him unable to see how far forward he was pushing Wesson’s arms.

When asked for comment last week, Brown said in an email that the decision to fire Martinez was based on the internal investigation. He went on to say Martinez has a right to an appeal and is innocent until proven guilty in court. He didn’t respond Wednesday to a request for additional comment.

Wesson’s attorney, Daryl K. Washington, said Tuesday he hopes the city holds firm on the decision to fire Martinez. He called the protests “an unfortunate situation.”

“I still don’t see how anyone who after seeing that video would want to be out supporting that officer,” Washington said.

Medrano said the protest was unusual given the current anti-police climate after grand juries declined to indict police officers for fatal encounters with unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

“I hope you really take a look at this incident,” Medrano said. “I know I am.”

Council members Rick Callahan, Dwaine Caraway and Tennell Atkins also thanked the group for coming out.

Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston called the outpouring of support a “big morale boost” to Dallas officers. Dallas Fraternal Order of Police president Richard Todd said he has spoken to Martinez recently, and the former officer — who was not at City Hall Wednesday — is trying to keep his mind off the firing.

“He’s lying low and letting everybody speak for him,” Todd said.

Todd said he is amazed by the support for Martinez.

“Nowhere in the country are you seeing this,” Todd said. “They’re not worried about political perception or opinion or anything else. They just want their officer back.”

Copyright 2014 The Dallas Morning News