Fort Worth’s police chief expressed dismay Friday over a viral video showing a white officer scolding a black mother who was trying to report that her 7-year-old son had been assaulted — then arresting her and her teenage daughters.
“What we’ve seen in the video disturbed us,” Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said at a news conference.
A few minutes later, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Tex.) called the officer’s behavior “rude and condescending,” echoing many of the millions of people who have seen the video since it hit Facebook on Wednesday.
A Texas state representative said she was “outraged,” like much of the public. But at the end of the news conference, the police chief resisted the conclusion many outraged viewers have made about the video.
“I can’t call it racist,” Fitzgerald said. “The officer was rude. There’s a difference between rude and racism.”
The unnamed white officer has been placed on “restricted duty status” while the department investigates the incident, in which he arrested the mother, 46-year-old Jacqueline Craig, and her two teenage daughters, as seen in the six-minute video. The video — which shows the officer pointing his stun gun at teenagers during the controversial arrests — has been shared nearly 100,000 times and racked up 2.7 million views.
Craig was charged with resisting arrest, according to jail records obtained by the Star-Telegram.
Brea Hymond, Craig’s 19-year-old daughter, was also charged with resisting arrest and interfering with public duty, the paper reported.
A second 15-year-old daughter was also arrested, but charging information was not immediately available.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the woman, told the Star-Telegram that he wants the charges against his clients “dropped immediately,” calling them “completely manufactured.”
“We want to see the officer involved terminated from his position as a peace officer within Fort Worth and would also like to see him prosecuted criminally for his behavior — for his felony assault of my clients,” Merritt added. “We would like to see the individual who all this started from — the neighbor who assaulted a 7-year-old child — prosecuted as well.”
He noted on Twitter that police didn’t take Craig’s original report about her son allegedly being assaulted.
After her release Wednesday afternoon, at a news conference on Thursday, Craig told reporters that she thought she was protecting her child when she called police, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“I’m distraught,” she said, before breaking into tears. “It made me feel less of a parent that I couldn’t protect him when he needed it.”
Merritt told reporters that video of the incident “gets worse by the minute.”
“Instead of being able to protect her or her child, she was assaulted,” he said. “Two of her children were arrested and terrorized.”
“It sent a signal to the 7-year-old, who was just assaulted by a neighbor, that he could never rely on police officers for protection,” Merritt continued, calling the incident “an attack on this family” and “an attack on the African American community.”
The police statement said investigators “worked throughout the night” interviewing witnesses and reviewing video evidence, including footage from the officer’s body camera.
The statement asked the public to remain calm Thursday as their investigation into the troubling continues.
“We acknowledge that the initial appearance of the video may raise serious questions,” the police statement said. “We ask that our investigators are given the time and opportunity to thoroughly examine the incident and to submit their findings.”
“The process may take time, but the integrity of the investigation rests upon the ability of our investigators to document facts and to accurately evaluate the size and scope of what transpired.”
The video begins with Craig explaining to the officer that her children told her that a man in her Fort Worth neighborhood grabbed her son by the neck after the child refused to pick up litter.
“You could’ve came to me,” Craig tells the accused man, who stands nearby. “Don’t put your hands on my son.”
“Well why don’t you teach your son not to litter,” the officer responded.
Craig then replied, “He can’t prove to me that my son littered, but it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.”
“Why not?” the officer responded.
The comment prompts someone outside the shot to remind the officer that he’s being recorded.
Craig, appearing to grow pained, tells the officer that he doesn’t know what she teaches her son and that children don’t always follow their parent’s rules when adults are out of sight.
The officer replies that if she keeps yelling it’s going to “piss me off and I’m going to take you to jail.”
As tensions rise, the video shows Hymond, 19, step in front of Craig and begin to push her away from the officer. At that point, the officer grabs the teenager from behind before aggressively pushing her to the side, knocking Craig to the ground and shoving a Taser into her back and then pointing the weapon at others at the scene.
Merritt told KXAS-TV that Craig’s teenage daughter stepped in between the officer and her mother to de-escalate the situation.
As the officer grabs the teen’s shoulder from behind a voice screams, “Don’t grab her! Don’t grab her!”
As the incident unfolds a woman can be heard telling the officer that he is “on live.”
The video shows the officer arresting Hymond while the person filming follows him with her phone yelling profanities and telling the officer that he’s “arresting a 15-year-old.”
The video appears to jump ahead at several points, leaving gaps in the footage. Merritt told the Morning News the breaks in recording stemmed from Hymond receiving phone calls that interrupted the recording.
He said an original recording exists that captured events before police were at the scene.
This incident comes six months after a black man killed five officers in Dallas, which shares a metropolitan area with Fort Worth.
It’s the second viral video in less than two years to show a police encounter with black teens in the Dallas area — after a McKinney officer was recorded pinning a 15-year-old girl to the ground at a pool party last year.
“This is an issue at an epidemic state,” said Emmanuel Obi, president of Dallas’ black bar association, the J.L. Turner Legal Association. “Folks have affirmatively reached out to law enforcement for help, and are then having the tables turned on them.”
Obi represents the African American organizer of the McKinney pool party, and said he is still trying to get access to a state investigation of the incident.
He said he’s also handling a 2013 lawsuit in which a black woman alleges she called Dallas police to her home to remove a trespasser — only for the officers to arrest her and her father instead.
Obi said a “pattern of officer misconduct,” including the Fort Worth incident, has outraged the black community around Dallas.
“When you can’t seek redress, there’s a certain desperation that is born,” he said.
Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said that when the officer arrived at the scene of the conflict between Craig and her neighbor, he had a responsibility to de-escalate the confrontation, but instead he did the opposite. In the process, she said, the officer “ignored basic community policing standards.”
“When the mother of a seven-year-old boy calls the police to report an assault on her son, the responding officer should expect to find her distraught,” she said.
“This incident and countless others like them demonstrate that for people of color, showing anything less than absolute deference to police officers — regardless of the circumstances — can have unjust and often tragic consequences,” she added. “This fundamental injustice is also a threat to public safety. If a black woman in Fort Worth can’t call the cops after her son is allegedly choked by a neighbor without getting arrested, why would she ever call the cops again?”
At Friday’s news conference, the police chief promised his department would “get to the bottom” of the incident.
But Fitzgerald also cautioned that the public had only seen part of the altercation — and that his department couldn’t release the officer’s body camera footage under state law.
“As much as the public would like to see every nook and cranny of what we have, it’s impossible to do while respecting the rights of others,” he said.