Five Fort Worth police officers were fired and two others were suspended Tuesday for failing to call an ambulance for a man who died in custody six months ago.
The officers’ attorney said the punishment is extreme and unfair.
In a statement, police identified the terminated officers as T. Stephens, D. Pritzker, C. Golden, H. Fellhauer and M. Miller. A sixth officer, S. Smith, was suspended without pay for 90 days and the seventh, A. Scharf, was suspended for five days.
The officers had been on desk duty since the incident on July 26. They responded to a report of a prowler in the 3300 block of Griggs Avenue and took Christopher Lowe, 55, into custody
The department said Lowe began to complain about medical issues but officers left him handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, where he was later found “unresponsive.”
“The actions taken by the officers involved in this incident discovered during our investigation are not in accordance with the values of the Fort Worth Police Department or the standards that the citizens of For Worth have for their police department,” the department said in a statement. “We hope that the administrative conclusion of this case is an assurance to the residents of Fort Worth that we are able to identify and properly address any issues that may arise during police incidents.”
The officers’ attorney, Terry Daffron, called the punishment “extremely heavy handed” and said the officers will appeal, except for S. Smith who gave up the that right.
Daffron said officers often have to deal with people feigning medical ailments in an attempt to avoid going to jail.
“The officers have to make a determination, is this a legitmimate medical emergency, or is this what they call jail-itis?” she said. “For the most part, up until today, officers have been given the discretion on making that determination. After today, the message is there’s no discretion.”
Acting Chief Ed Kraus doled out the discipline while Chief Joel Fitzgerald is on leave, tending to his teenage son who recently underwent brain surgery.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald’s own future at the department appears up in the air.
Last week, his boss, City Manager David Cooke, questioned Fitzgerald’s committment after he applied for and then withdrew his name to be top cop in Baltimore.
Cooke said he planned on discussing Fitzgerald’s future in Fort Worth with him after his son’s medical emergency.