Police leadership in Fort Worth, TX, are under pressure to fire a white officer who violently arrested a black woman moments after she sought police help with a neighbor who she said choked her 7-year-old son.
Video of the ugly incident, which reportedly took place on December 21, shows the mother and several young relations speaking with a dispatcher and waiting for officers to arrive, then explaining things to an Officer Martin.
Martin’s response was to ask the woman, 46-year-old Jacqueline Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” In the video, she bristles in response and points out that even if he did litter that’s no justification for assault. “Why not?” the cop retorts. Craig, standing still, reiterates her point. Martin asks why she’s yelling, and she says his questions “pissed me off.”
“If you keep yelling at me you’re gonna piss me off and I’m gonna take you to jail,” Martin says. One of Craig’s daughters steps in between the two.
Seconds later, the cop pushes an incensed Craig onto the pavement, presses his taser into her back and then at her panicked daughter, and eventually cuffs both women.
The scene explodes into yelling, the bystanders follow the officer and his two detainees to his truck, and the officer appears to kick the daughter into the back seat. The officer then arrests the young woman who was recording, confiscates her phone as “evidence,” and brings all three to lockup.
The cop’s decisions — to interrogate Craig’s parenting, aim a weapon at the women, arrest the people who had called for his help, kick a minor into his car, and attempt to confiscate a recording of the whole episode — are hard to justify.
Martin’s supervisor in the department’s South division referred ThinkProgress’ questions to the public information office, which confirmed Martin’s surname but did not respond immediately to other questions about the officer’s record and the status of the investigation into his conduct. The department released a statement saying Martin has been placed on restricted duty, and an officer in the South division said he was not at his desk on Wednesday.
One day earlier, the police department’s public relations office had issued a statement acknowledging the protests and complaints over the video, and urging people to “keep telling us what you think…good or bad.”
— Fort Worth Police (@fortworthpd) December 27, 2016
Two different versions of the video were posted online, one on the night following the incident and another two days later. Roughly 100 protesters gathered Thursday night outside an old county courthouse building downtown to call for police leaders to fire and prosecute Martin.
“We know that if that had been a black man grabbing the throat of a white boy, he’d be in jail right now,” a protest organizer named Cory Hughes told the Star-Telegram.
As the videos reached a wider audience over the past week, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald addressed the incident.
“I can’t call it racism,” Fitzgerald said. “What I can say is that I noticed in the video that the officer was rude. And there is a difference between rude and racist.” The chief also praised protesters’ conduct and said some leaders had told him they “have every confidence in the world that we will handle this properly.”
Details on Officer Martin’s service history have not yet been made available. A department employee told ThinkProgress he’s heard Martin is a 15-year veteran of the force but had no further knowledge of his record with the department.
With its sudden violence, escalating behavior by an officer, and appearances of racial bias, the episode echoes the 2015 case of Corporal Eric Casebolt in nearby McKinney, Texas.
Video of Casebolt roughly arresting a black teenager outside a community pool and brandishing his sidearm at her friends sparked nationwide outrage, and invoked a long history of swimming pools as flashpoints for white communities battling with black neighbors. Casebolt resigned — something protest organizers in Fort Worth say Officer Martin should not be given the chance to do — but did not face charges.
Last week’s incident in Fort Worth took place on the city’s south side, outside the city’s beltway interstate. The neighborhood is roughly a 20-minute drive from a suburb called White Settlement, Texas, and about 45 miles west of the site in Dallas where Micah Johnson murdered police officers who were escorting protesters decrying multiple police killings back in July.
At one point in the video, Craig expresses frustration that the white man who allegedly assaulted her 7-year-old didn’t handle things in a more neighborly fashion.
“What you should have done, because we have been living here for years, you know that my house is a door in between yours, you could’ve came to me,” Craig says.
The department has said its investigation will include both the full half-hour version of the Facebook Live video recorded by one of the three women arrested, and footage from Officer Martin’s body camera.
That longer video, released the day after the initial protests, shows Craig and her daughter waiting for police near her son’s alleged assailant as he paints a fence. It also includes audio from after the arrests, in which Martin appears to confirm that he kicked the 15-year-old.
The additional footage doesn’t shed any light on what happened with Craig’s son and the neighbor, but it does show Craig actively trying to deescalate things while waiting for police to arrive. At one point someone the women know shows up in a white sedan and approaches the neighbor. Craig pushes him away immediately, and he gets back into his car and leaves.
At the beginning of the tape, Craig tells a police dispatcher she intends to press charges against the man who her son said had put hands on him.
“I want to press charges,” she tells the operator. “This is a grown man, grabbed a 7-year-old kid, choked him.”