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Closed Records

In a 2020 interview with Madeworthy Magazine, Fort Worth Deputy Police Chief Michael Shedd appeared to be a strong advocate for open lines of communication between local police and the public.

“The greatest misstep that may have contributed to the tense relations between our department and communities of color would have to be a lack of communication,” Shedd said. “I don’t think our department has done an adequate job of communicating the steps we take on a daily basis to improve those relationships and hold our officers accountable for violating that trust.”

But Shedd’s transparency apparently only goes so far. When it comes to a recently dismissed sexual harassment case against him, there’s not much information to go on.

In May, a confidential source with connections to the Fort Worth police department told us that Shedd, who oversees several divisions, was under investigation for allegedly sexually harassing a female officer. The female officer reported Shedd’s behavior to several superior officers, the confidential source told me, but nothing was done. The confidential source was alarmed that the investigation of a high-ranking officer was kept secret.

“This is troubling because the command staff talks about how ‘transparent’ they are on all these incidents,” the confidential source said. “They send out a media release as soon as officers are implicated in some sort of wrongdoing, but when it involves one of them, they try to sweep it under the rug. Any other officer would have had their gun and badge taken and placed on restricted duty status” while the investigation ran its course.

After the alleged victim brought the allegations directly to investigators with the Office of Internal Affairs (OIA), that department initiated an investigation.

“I am trying to confirm an internal investigation of Officer Mike Shedd,” my subsequent media inquiry read. “The alleged offense is sexual harassment.”

Since my inquiry involved the OIA, I was told by a FWPD communications liaison that I would need to resubmit my questions via an open records request, which I did. Several days later, I learned that the Fort Worth Secretary’s Office, which handles open records requests, had appealed my inquiry to the State Attorney General’s Office by seeking a legal brief. The legal maneuver is basically a delaying tactic meant to stop embarrassing information from coming to light. The AG’s office typically takes three to four months to reply.

The city’s correspondence with the AG, shared with me via email, provides the only insight I have into the May OIA investigation.

“The investigation determined the allegations to be unfounded or the allegations did not result in discipline,” reads the city’s request for a legal brief. “The submitted records relate to an internal affairs investigation and were created and maintained in the course of providing professional legal services and advice to the City of Fort Worth in anticipation of litigation. Because the City has shown that the records were created in anticipation” of the city being sued by the alleged victim, the records are confidential and can be withheld.

The confidential source said Shedd accepted retirement in lieu of disciplinary action. A Fort Worth police department spokesperson said Shedd has not notified the department about the deputy police chief’s intention to retire — an option that is often given to disgraced public officials in Tarrant County as an alternative to termination.

A 2020 open records request filed by the government transparency-minded nonprofit MuckRock found that 167 complaints were filed against Fort Worth police officers in 2020. Around 85% of those complaints were sustained, according to data provided by Fort Worth police department, and most of the disciplinary actions ranged from one- to 30-day suspensions with 18 being listed as “indefinite” suspensions.

The city’s ability to hide embarrassing information from the public may be diminishing. The June runoff elections flipped Fort Worth City Council’s balance of power from a conservative majority to a contingent of youngish, progressive leaders who may be less inclined to let city staff use their positions to coverup alleged wrongdoing by high-ranking police officers or anyone else.

That flip came following the ousting of District 6 councilmember Jungus Jordan, who was heavily backed by the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, which sent a slew of false and misleading political flyers to Fort Worth voters in the weeks before the elections (“Local Police Union Uses Uptick in Crime to Consolidate Power and Money,” May 26). The police union contributed $25,000 to Jordan through a May donation. Jordan lost his seat to Jared Williams, a young community organizer who holds a doctorate in environmental science and education.

Citizen complaints against members of the Fort Worth police department can be filed by emailing the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor at PoliceOversight@fortworthtexas.gov or by calling 817-392-6535. Descriptions of police abuse and/or misconduct can also be sent to an independent panel of police reform experts who are currently providing Fort Worth City Council with recommendations on police reform. That group can be reached at info@policereformexperts.com.

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