Fort Worth’s former police chief Joel Fitzgerald has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination, claiming they fired him because he planned to blow the whistle on cybersecurity issues.
Last Friday, Fitzgerald’s lawyer, Stephen Kennedy, held a press conference alleging the city’s reasons for termination do not line up with reality.
Among the list of reasons the city gave for terminating Fitzgerald was his confrontation with the president of a statewide police association during a police funeral in Washington, D.C., and the fact that he failed to address cybersecurity concerns within his department.
Kennedy countered that Fitzgerald was preparing to meet with the FBI over possible security breaches regarding Fort Worth’s access to and usage of the bureau’s Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). Fitzgerald received notification of his termination one hour before his scheduled meeting with the FBI.
Additionally, Kennedy alleges Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke gave Fitzgerald the option to resign earlier with financial compensation so long as he did not aid other “whistleblower lawsuits” filed by other parties against the city on the cybersecurity issue.
“Take the money, and be silent, and don’t sue anybody, or be terminated for cause. Dr. Fitzgerald took option two,” his attorney said of the situation.
Kennedy is also representing former Fort Worth employee William Birchett in a separate lawsuit. Birchett is suing for more than $1 million, also claiming he was terminated for blowing the whistle on security breaches costing taxpayers over $500,000.
During his time as police chief, Fitzgerald was criticized for consistent budget overruns—police cost over $253 million of taxpayer money in 2018—but Fitzgerald’s attorney said he tried to address these costs, when he tried to reduce the $800,000 cost of Mayor Betsy Price’s five-man security force, which the attorney says far exceeds the need of even A-list performance artists.
Fitzgerald’s attempts were blocked and, Fitzgerald’s own security aide was terminated in what Kennedy claims was retaliation.
In regards to the dispute in D.C.—where at a service honoring fallen police officers, Fitzgerald got into an altercation with the president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas for being expelled—Kennedy claims the conflict wasn’t really about Fitzgerald’s expulsion, but was a setup by CLEAT to make Fitzgerald look bad. His reasoning? Because of Fitzgerald’s unpopular procedures of holding officers accountable and planning to report ethics violations of an attorney for a statewide union.
It was reported that Fitzgerald was expelled from CLEAT for trying to join before becoming a member of his local police union in Fort Worth, a requirement.
Fitzgerald may also file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission addressing a memo he sent to himself regarding alleged racial discrimination within the department, according to his attorney. This memo was mentioned in Fitzgerald’s termination letter, with Fort Worth’s assistant city manager writing that Fitzgerald didn’t “move forward with investigations” to address his own allegations.
“The city can’t use a claim of discrimination as a reason for terminating him with cause,” Kennedy countered.
Cooke’s office issued a response the same day of the press conference:
“The City continues to be fully prepared to defend itself against these absurd allegations. To be clear, the City has affirmed our CJIS certification with the Department of Public Safety. The City stands behind the decision to terminate the Chief’s employment.”