Texas officer fired after arrest involving TASER, video released

Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said Sgt. Kenneth Pierce became "impatient, initiated an unnecessary physical confrontation"

By Claire Z. Cardona
The Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH, Texas — A veteran Fort Worth police officer was fired Monday for his role in escalating a situation in which a woman who had called police for help was Tased and arrested outside her apartment. 

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald dismissed Sgt. Kenneth Pierce, a 22-year veteran of the department, after supervisors completing a mandatory use-of-force review of the August incident discovered the conduct, police said. 

The officer became "impatient, initiated an unnecessary physical confrontation," then ordered a rookie officer to Tase the woman, Fitzgerald said in a written statement denouncing Pierce's actions.

Police on Monday also released nearly 13 minutes of footage taken by a camera worn by the rookie officer, Maria Bayona, during the domestic call.  

The video shows at least three officers responding to an apartment complex after the woman, whose identity has not been released, called 911 to report an incident with her boyfriend. 

In the body-cam video, the woman is heard telling a responding officer that she had wanted her boyfriend to leave and that she has a knife to keep anyone from kicking her door in or damaging her vehicle.  

Before Bayona hands back the purse, which the officers had taken to look for the knife, she asks the woman if she has other weapons. She tells them she does not.

"It's no point in calling y'all if you're going to do all this," the woman says. "Come up here like ... I have done something to y'all."

After her purse is returned to her, the woman pulls out her ID and becomes engaged in a conversation with another officer, thought to be Pierce, who asks what she told the 911 dispatcher.  

"Look, I don't have to repeat myself," the woman says.

"See this is the reason you're getting the attitude from us that you're getting," the officer says.

Pierce asks her to hand Bayona her ID, and the woman says she does not have to do so. He says that if she does not, she will be handcuffed and sent to jail.

During an attempt to handcuff the woman and bring her to the ground, Pierce appears to yank her hair. The woman is heard repeatedly shouting for him to "let my hair go."

Pierce is then heard ordering Bayona to Tase the woman.

She falls to the ground, is handcuffed and taken to a squad car. The aggravated assault and resisting arrest charges against her were later dropped after a review of evidence, Fitzgerald said.

"I'm confident that everyone who sees this video, including members of this department, will agree this supervisor's response and subsequent behaviors are absolutely unacceptable," he said in the written statement. "We are built on a foundation of being problem-solvers. Pierce responded in an opposite manner, and he escalated the situation endangering everyone involved including his fellow officers."

He said the department reached out to the woman but she has not responded. 

"Thankfully, in this situation, our internal systems worked, both in the use of force review and the criminal investigative process," Fitzgerald said.

An internal investigation is being conducted into Bayona's actions,  said Paula Fimbres with the Police Department. The rookie officer was hired in 2016.

Indefinite suspension letter

In a letter released Tuesday by police that detailed the reasons for Pierce's indefinite suspension, Fitzgerald cited neglect of duty and violation of a department rule, directive, general or special order.

According to the suspension letter, an internal affairs captain said that after reviewing the report and video, he thought Pierce may have "misrepresented facts" in his narrative of the call to create probable cause to support the woman's arrest.

The internal affairs investigation revealed evidence that Pierce used "unreasonable force" to make the arrest. 

The woman should not have been arrested "simply for not giving her identification to Officer Bayona," the letter said.

The letter also said Pierce failed to supervise officers on the scene and failed to make attempts to de-escalate the situation, "instead inserting himself in a manner (by telling the woman that she needed to hand over her identification or she would be handcuffed and taken to jail) that caused the situation to deteriorate."

"Sergeant Pierce has shown a blatant disregard for the policies and procedures of the Fort Worth Police Department," the letter states.

The letter also stated Pierce had 10 days to appeal his termination. 

'Eerily reminiscent'

Police said the incident was "eerily reminiscent" of the arrest of Jacqueline Craig in December 2016. Craig called Fort Worth police to complain that a neighbor had choked her 8-year-old son after the boy allegedly littered.

Officer William Martin argued with Craig, pulled out a stun gun and forced her to the ground before detaining her and her two daughters. The arrest was captured on cellphone video.

Martin was suspended for 10 days. The charges against Craig and her daughters were later dropped. Two police officials were demoted in May after the department said they played a role in leaking body-camera footage and personnel records after Craig's arrest.

The incident sparked a protest and anger from people in the community who criticized the police response, saying that when people call police they want help, not to be arrested. 

©2017 The Dallas Morning News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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