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Arlington police chief fired officer for 'transparency' after reviewing 'disturbing' body camera video of fatal shooting

In a video released Friday, police officer Robert Phillips can be heard saying "Don't you do it" as he fired his weapon at 40-year-old Jesse Joseph Fischer.

ARLINGTON, Texas — This story was updated on Friday at 5:30 p.m. with new details from a press conference

The Arlington police chief defended the firing of an officer accused of fatally shooting a man during a low-speed chase earlier this week, saying the decision was about being transparent with the community the department serves.

Arlington Police Chief Al Jones held a press conference Friday afternoon where he showed both bodycam and dashboard camera footage of the Oct. 20 shooting that happened off Carla Court.

In it, Arlington police officer Robert Phillips is seen shooting through the windshield of Jesse Joseph Fischer's white Jeep SUV, killing the 40-year-old. 

Jones said he terminated Phillips' employment because he violated the multiple department orders that include not shooting at a moving vehicle and only using deadly force when "protecting yourself or someone else."

Video released

The incident started after a 911 caller reported seeing a driver, Fischer, slumped over in an SUV in the middle of Pioneer Parkway. Police said the call came in as a medical emergency.

Body-worn video first shows a different Arlington Police officer, who hasn't been identified, commanding Fischer to turn off his car and telling him "do not move this car" three times before Fischer drove off.

Phillips drives after Fischer, who stops again at Daniel Drive and Arkansas Lane.

At the intersection, Phillips tells Fischer - whose hands are visible hanging outside the window - more than 10 times to either throw his keys out of the car or drop his keys, which Fischer does not do. At one point in the video, Phillips can be heard saying, "This is not going to end well for you if you do not drop those keys."

Phillips also told Fischer he was "under arrest at this point."

After the two continued to exchange words and interact for a brief time, Fischer again drives away, followed by Phillips.

Fischer eventually drove to Carla Court, where the road ran into a dead end at a cul-de-sac.

At this location, police said Fischer made a U-turn and began traveling in the direction of Phillips.

The video shows Phillips stopping his car, getting out of the vehicle near his open door and pointing his gun at Fischer, who is driving his vehicle at a low speed towards Phillips' police car.

This is when the video shows Phillips shooting Fischer through the windshield multiple times. Phillips can be heard saying, "don't you do it," as he fires his weapon.

Police said the second officer arrived on the scene around the time of the gunshots and both began performing life-saving measures on the driver until paramedics arrived.

No officers were hurt, according to Arlington Police. Arlington firefighters were also on the scene.

The second officer, who was not identified by police, was placed on administrative leave for witnessing the shooting, which Jones said is standard protocol.

Police union response

Shortly before Arlington police released the video of the encounter, the Arlington Police Association called on the department to reinstate Phillips, who officials said was a 7-year veteran with the department.

The association called the firing a "hasty decision" and said the officer feared for his life during the incident.

"They are handing down judgments without giving time for a complete investigation," said officer JP Mason, president of the Arlington Police Association.

Charley Wilkinson, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, said in the police union release Friday that Phillips "followed his training as he believed his life was under immediate threat."

Wilkinson called Phillips' firing "a political firing by an administration that is publicly washing its hands of any connection to this officer that they screened, hired and trained."

Wilkinson said CLEAT plans to represent Phillips, should he appeal the firing.

Jones, however, shot down the claim that the firing was political and said it was a result of wanting to be "transparent" and maintaining trust with the residents of Arlington.

"I'm not looking for any type of political asperation or any clout from any politics," Jones said. "It's not about politics. It's about community trust. It's about being transparent."

Police chief's response

Jones said he met with Fischer's family Friday and viewed the video of the incident and shooting with them.

Jones said he watched the video of the shooting as both a chief and a dad.

"It was disturbing," Jones said. "It is what it is."

The department's investigators that reviewed the video and situation took a "deep dive" and had a "thorough investigation," according to Jones.

"The facts, as we know them, today are not going to change," Jones said. "They are not going to change today. They are not going to change tomorrow. They are not going to change six months now."

"Without any type of action with it, the community would have been outraged, and that's the last thing I want in Arlington," he added.

Jones also questioned whether deadly force needed to be used at all, saying there were other options Phillips could have taken to avoid shooting Fischer.

"The policy (Phillips is accused of violating) is about providing alternatives for these officers so they don't have to use force," Jones said. "He could have backed up behind the vehicle and allowed the vehicle to go by. He could have stayed in his vehicle so that he didn't put himself in a situation where he had to use deadly force."

Jones also said since Fischer had driven into a dead-end street, the officers on scene could have blocked the street as a step towards getting Fischer to comply with the officers' commands.

"There were a lot of different options we could have used, but we didn't," Jones said. "And I think that's a failure on our part."

Jones had members of Arlington's Latino Advisory Council, Unity Council and clergy partnership standing behind him in support of the decision to fire Phillips.

Cathleen Ramon Venable, a member of the Latino Advisory Council, said it was disturbing watching the video.

"In my opinion, and I'm sure in the opinion of a lot of us, we wonder, 'How did this ever happen?' 'Why did it happen?'" Venable asked.

During investigations into previous officer-involved shootings,APD has received criticism for what community members called a lack of transparency.

Some of the organizations that protested the department during those investigations praised the response to this one.

"Throughout each of those cases, APD has held that video for 6 months, 8 months. It doesn’t take 8 months to review a video," said Alisa Simmons, president of the NAACP Arlington branch.  

She commended Jones's swift action.

"We’ve had obstacles getting video, but he put the video out immediately," said Michael A. Golson, Sr, co-chair of the NAACP Arlington branch's criminal justice committee. 

Activist Luis Castillo is currently the president of Arington's League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) council. 

"It gives us hope for better community relations with the police department," he said.

Castillo and Golson are also former police officers.

Golson is a retired ATF agent.

He called Phillips' actions "totally inappropriate." 

"When using deadly force it should be a last resort, when your life or the life of another is in danger," Golson said.

Simmons said Arlington does not "need officers serving or patrolling our community with that type of mindset."

When asked whether Fischer had a criminal record, Jones said he didn't know. "That's not important to me, either," he said. "We didn't know any of that. All we knew was we had a medical condition."