By DAVID McFADDEN, Associated Press
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore mayor’s nominee to be the city’s next police commissioner on Monday abruptly withdrew his name from consideration, the latest setback to the beleaguered force where leadership instability has become the norm.
A terse announcement about Joel Fitzgerald’s decision was made in a Monday tweet from the Fort Worth Police Department, the Texas municipal force he leads. It did not provide any details about his reasoning, only saying that Fitzgerald decided to withdraw his name.
But later Monday morning, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Fitzgerald was withdrawing his candidacy to “devote his full attention” to one of his sons who, she says, is facing a second brain surgery this week to “remove a mass that was discovered late last week.”
The announcement about his withdrawal comes days after Pugh’s office announced that Fitzgerald would not be able to travel to Baltimore for public hearings into his nomination because of a serious medical emergency suffered by one of his sons.
Following a selection period that lasted most of 2018, Pugh in mid-November said that the 47-year-old Philadelphia native was her pick to be the city’s next police leader, the fourth one during her roughly two-year administration. She said she was confident that he was the best candidate to lead the department “into a new era of credibility, accountability and trust.”
But his nomination was rocky from the start. Critics in Baltimore and Fort Worth cast doubt on his record and reputation as a true police reformer. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that Fitzgerald’s resume overstated some achievements since he became police chief in Fort Worth in October 2015.
Baltimore’s City Hall will now go back to the drawing board to pick the city’s next police leader. Acting Commissioner Gary Tuggle would continue managing day-to-day affairs of the department and Pugh on Monday said she would be “communicating further on the process to select” a permanent leader.
The next police commissioner faces formidable challenges: reduce one of the highest homicide rates of any large U.S. city, to rebuild trust between officers and deeply skeptical residents, and win the confidence of a demoralized department racked by corruption and feuding factions.
That’s all while making sure sweeping reforms encompassing fundamental aspects of police work finally take root in Baltimore, where U.S. Justice Department investigators found the police force routinely violated the constitutional rights of citizens for years.