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Joel Fitzgerald withdraws from consideration from Baltimore Police commissioner job

Joel Fitzgerald withdraws from consideration from Baltimore Police commissioner job

 

 

Joel Fitzgerald, the Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice to become Baltimore’s next police commissioner, has withdrawn from consideration for the job as his teenage son faces serious medical problems, the mayor’s office said.

The move comes after the 13-year-old boy suffered a medical emergency late last week that prompted Pugh’s team to cancel a round of public meetings and Fitzgerald’s appearance Monday at a City Council hearing.

Pugh said Monday that the child needed brain surgery to remove a mass discovered last week.

“After a lengthy discussion with Chief Joel Fitzgerald, I respect his decision to withdraw his candidacy for Baltimore police commissioner in order to devote his full attention to his son,” Pugh said in a statement.

She said in a brief interview Monday morning that she talked with Fitzgerald by phone.

“I told him he should focus on his son,” she said.

She said she would have more information to share later about the process for picking a permanent leader for the department.

 

Fitzgerald is police chief in Fort Worth, Texas. He had a long career in the Philadelphia Police Department, and was later chief in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Missouri City, Texas.

He issued a statement Monday on his decision to remain in Fort Worth that emphasized the support he has received from that city’s residents, which he said increased once people learned he could leave for Baltimore.

“Their support never wavered, and may have intensified,” Fitzgerald said. “There is literally nowhere I go in this city of almost 900,000 residents where someone doesn’t approach me to say first, ‘Hey, Chief, your Eagles stink, and by the way, you’re still needed and loved here in Fort Worth.’”

“I will now focus on my child’s next bout of brain surgery, and being home with family, my Fort Worth Police Department family … and this awesome community.”

The development means more uncertainty for a police department that has been without a permanent leader since May, when Darryl De Sousa, the previous commissioner, resigned after being charged with failing to file federal tax returns. For now, interim commissioner Gary Tuggle remains in charge. Pugh named Fitzgerald, the police chief in Fort Worth, Texas, her choice on Nov. 16, following months of searching.

His public rollout was bumpy from the beginning. He was not in Baltimore when he was named. During his first public visit to the city, he announced that — in a break with past nominees — he would continue in his Fort Worth job until the Baltimore City Council voted on whether to confirm him as commissioner.

Council members raised questions about an opaque process that led to Fitzgerald’s selection, and he initially declined to release a copy of his resume. Four council members announced they wouldn’t support him unless Pugh shared the results of a background check, and they ultimately were shown a redacted version of an investigation report.

After Pugh released his resume as part of submitting his nomination to the council, The Baltimore Sun and The Morning Call of Allentown found he overstated his accomplishments in Fort Worth and Allentown, including misrepresenting his role in the introduction of body cameras in those cities.

Then, on the eve of a critical weekend that was Fitzgerald’s sole opportunity to build public support in Baltimore ahead of the council vote, Pugh announced that the visit was cancelled because of his son’s health problems.

Councilman Brandon Scott, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said that after a hearing Saturday in which dozens of people expressed concern about Fitzgerald, he had very limited support on the council.

“When you tally up how the administration has had more fumbles in this process than the Ravens had in the first half yesterday, in addition to the unfortunate circumstances around Dr. Fitzgerald’s son — who I hope who has a full recovery — I think this was inevitable,” Scott said.

Police continue to battle high levels of violent crime at the same time the department embarks on the second phase of implementing a civil rights decree. The federal judge overseeing the decree has stressed the need for stable leadership at the department, but Fitzgerald’s withdrawal likely means weeks of further uncertainty, at least.

Hiring a qualified commissioner “is only half of the solution,” said Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, the city police officers’ union.

“The other half will require that, once in place, the next police commissioner be given the appropriate autonomy to perform the required duties to the very best of his/her experience,” Mancuso said in a statement. “We respectfully request that Mayor Pugh give her full attention to not just finding the right person … but, also, to giving that person the full support necessary to lead our agency, without unnecessary impediment, to the success that is so desperately needed.”

Pugh had assembled a list of five other possible candidates who were interviewed by a panel of experts in Florida, according to sources familiar with the interviews. Kevin Ward, one of the five and a former chief of staff to Bill Bratton when Bratton was commissioner of the New York Police Department, said Monday that he remains interested in the job. It’s not known yet whether any of the others are.

Ray Kelly, a West Baltimore community activist and part of an independent team monitoring the civil rights decree, said that list could be a starting point for finding a new candidate.

“Call in the next two candidates that were part of the initial interview process,” Kelly said. “Hold a public hearing to let them address residents and the community, as well as the City Council representatives, to present what strategies they plan to use, answer the questions that came about at the Saturday hearing, and make sure the process is transparent and accessible, and the final choice is community-informed.”

Kelly favors New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, who was recommended by the expert panel in Florida, although Harrison did not apply for the job.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

 

iduncan@baltsun.com

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