FORT WORTH, Texas — The City of Fort Worth is looking into an incident that happened Sunday evening involving Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald while he attended the 2019 Top Cop Awards in Washington, D.C., according to a statement released by Mayor Betsy Price.
In question is whether there was a confrontation on the stage after the National Association of Police Organizations event between Chief Fitzgerald and Todd Harrison, president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).
CLEAT recently removed Fitzgerald from its membership.
Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said he had to put his body in front of Fitzgerald to stop him from confronting Harrison. He said it all happened right after the event ended as people gathered on stage to take group pictures with the two Fort Worth police Top Cop recipients.
Ramirez said he stepped in front of Fitzgerald “to make sure the chief didn’t confront [Harrison] and there wasn’t an inappropriate confrontation” on stage.
“I’m going to talk to him now or I’m going to talk to him in court," Ramirez said he recalled the chief saying.
Sabrina Hull, the widow of fallen Fort Worth Officer Garrett Hull, was on stage when it happened. Ramirez and others told WFAA there were a few dozen other people on stage when it happened, and a couple hundred still in the ballroom.
Ramirez said the chief’s demeanor was “visibly upset.”
But Fitzgerald told WFAA Thursday evening that the incident in question was simply a conversation in which he spoke to Harrison about issues he had with comments the CLEAT president made in a recent Fort Worth Star-Telegram article. That article detailed CLEAT’s removal of Fitzgerald from its membership.
“I hope we can stop this from becoming a libel situation because I am thoroughly prepared to get a lawyer,” Fitzgerald said he told Harrison. “I’ve run it by an attorney.”
He denied the quote Ramirez remembered hearing.
Fitzgerald said he’d already been talking to Harrison on stage during a group photo, and the conversation went unnoticed until Ramirez stepped in to try to end it.
When WFAA asked the chief how he felt his own demeanor was during the conversation, the chief said he was “calm and direct.” He said descriptions of the event have been blown out of proportion.
Both Fitzgerald and Ramirez confirm there was a follow-up conversation between the chief and Harrison in the foyer afterward, but they differ on recalling the tone of that conversation.
“I’m just disappointed and embarrassed that for a brief moment the focus was not where it should have been,” Ramirez said, pointing out the trip was to honor Hull. “It was not the right time and not the right venue to confront someone like that, in front of all those people. I’m embarrassed for our department.”
The chief said he purposefully waited until the Top Cop ceremony and event was over to talk to Harrison.
“I wasn’t disrupting or dishonoring any of the fallen,” he said.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross came to the defense of Fitzgerald Thursday night, saying he had direct sight of the stage after the event and never saw the chief acting unprofessionally in any way.
City council member Cary Moon was also on stage that evening for the photo but said he did not see the first interaction between Fitzgerald and Harrison. He said he did see the conversation afterward, saying it appeared to be an antagonistic conversation.
“Could have chosen better on location for that to happen,” Moon told WFAA. “We don’t want to take away from the ceremony of the events.
“Am I disappointed?" Moon continued. "Obviously if we’re having to talk about it. It’s unnecessary. So yeah, I guess I wish it had not occurred, not just for the employees, but also Chief Fitzgerald.”
Price released this statement Thursday:
“I wasn’t present, but I have been made aware of the situation by numerous witnesses. I have asked David Cooke and Jay Chapa to get to the bottom of this. We hold all our officers, including our chief, to a very high standard. There should be no exceptions.”
Fitzgerald said Harrison said he would visit Fort Worth in the coming weeks to talk about the chief’s concerns. WFAA was unable to confirm that. As of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, WFAA was unable to reach Harrison for comment.