Charges dropped against mom, daughter after body cam leaked

Police have decided to drop the charges against a Fort Worth mother and her daughters following the leaked release of body camera video of the arrest.

Last month Jacqueline Craig called police to report that her neighbor had choked her 7-year-old son. But after being confronted by the responding officer, she and her two daughters were the ones who were arrested.

The cellphone video of the controversial arrest went viral. On Thursday, an activist posted leaked video from Officer William Martin's body camera. It shows what happened before and after the viral video.

The Fort Worth Police Department released a statement hours after the video was leaked to announce its decision to withdraw all matters related to the arrest of Craig and her daughter. Police also said Craig’s neighbor, Itamar Vardi, was given a misdemeanor citation for assault by contact.

City officials said the dropped charges announcement was already planned for Thursday before they knew about the leaked body cam, calling the timing a "coincidence."

Officer Martin, a 10-year veteran of the force, received a 10-day suspension because of the arrest. Chief Joel Fitzgerald said his violations included neglect of duty, discourtesy and inappropriate contact with two females.

Martin’s suspension is over, but he is not back on patrol yet. Police said he must undergo sensitivity training before returning to street duty and will no longer be returning to his original assignment in the Rock Garden neighborhood.

Chief Fitzgerald sharply criticized the leaking of that body cam video, saying its release violates state law. But he says the video didn't reveal anything he hasn't already addressed.

"I found him guilty of excessive force,” he said. “That's not typical, not a pill people want to swallow. I did find Officer Martin of excessive force, and I stand by that finding.”

The city of Fort Worth has now launched an investigation into how the body cam video and Officer Martin’s personnel file were leaked, calling its release “illegal,”

At the same time the body cam video was made public, Craig's attorney, Lee Merritt, also released information about a previous complaint against Officer Martin for excessive force back in 2013 when Martin worked on the city's east side. It was information the chief says is protected under state law. The city immediately launched an investigation to find out who leaked it in the first place.

"It's a criminal act," said Fort Worth City Attorney David Cooke. "This information is supposed to be protected. It protects citizens. It's supposed to protect the officers, so that information shouldn't be getting out."

Despite the charges being dropped, Craig's attorneys say this is not a celebratory time because justice, in their opinion, has still failed the Craig family.

Craig found out the charges against her and her daughters had been dropped during a conference call with her legal team and Chief Fitzgerald Thursday morning. The call was hours after the body cam video was leaked online.

Craig's attorneys believe the continued media coverage and ongoing pressure from the community played a big part in the decision to drop the charges.

Two weeks ago, a community meeting got heated when Chief Fitzgerald disputed the claim that the neighbor choked the child, demonstrating on another officer how the neighbor grabbed the child by the neck.

Craig's attorneys are also not satisfied that the neighbor is only being charged with assault by contact, punishable by a fine up to $500. Craig's attorney says the 7-year-old boy was injured and the neighbor should be charged as such.

He actually reported to the officers that came out if he was in pain,” said attorney Jasmine Crockett. “This was days later, and he said yes. This child lost sleep because he was in pain. This child was sent to the emergency room and given a prescription because he was in pain.”

However, Mayor Betsy Price said she supports Chief Fitzgerald.

"We stand in support of the Chief's decision to handle this case at the city level. This is the most appropriate avenue to address the charges in the Dec 21 Rock Garden Trail incident. I am committed to the restorative process needed to heal any breach of trust in our community.  We continue to support the work of our excellent Fort Worth officers, who are tasked with so much in their roles to serve and protect our citizens. We know that healing takes time and compassionate efforts. But, as we learn from this incident, I trust that our community will grow to be even stronger," Price said.

And while Craig's attorneys and activists call the arrest racism, the chief still disagrees.

"There's a lot of healing to be done here. We know that. We know that we're not perfect, and we don't get everything right every time," the chief said. "When we recognize something that goes wrong on our end, we try to correct it."

Craig’s legal team says they intend to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth, Officer Martin and Vardi. Community activists say they plan to hold another rally within the next few days.

Officer Martin has chosen to appeal the disciplinary action. A hearing will be set for a later date.