FORT WORTH - As many as 20 Fort Worth
police officers are under investigation by police internal affairs on reports that they were celebrating with an off-duty officer before he was involved in a collision in his unmarked city vehicle that
killed a mother of two
, officials said Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, the department released more details about the Dec. 11 crash, including that officer Jesus Cisneros was traveling at least twice the posted speed limit of 35 mph when his vehicle and Sonia Baker's PT Cruiser collided.
The department has already reported that Cisneros' blood-alcohol content measured 0.17, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Cisneros resigned Monday, the same day that he turned himself in on a warrant accusing him of intoxication manslaughter. Cisneros was released from jail on $25,000 bail.
Police Chief Jeff Halstead said Tuesday that he reluctantly accepted Cisneros' resignation because he was in the final steps of firing the officer.
An internal investigation will continue to determine where Cisneros was before the crash, why he was driving his city vehicle without authorization, and whether the officers he was with that night violated department policy, Halstead said.
"I'm sending a signal out to everyone that works within this organization - civilians, sworn [officers], administrative, supervisory - everyone has a duty to step in and take care of one another," Halstead said.
"I think that night it didn't happen, and that's frustrating."
Cisneros was driving a Toyota Highlander west in the 3800 block of Columbus Trail about 2:25 a.m. when Baker, who was southbound on Evening Star Drive, tried to turn in front of him onto Columbus Trail. She was headed for a fast-food restaurant.
After the collision, Baker was pronounced dead at the scene, and Cisneros was injured. Tests on blood taken at a hospital emergency room found the 0.17 blood-alcohol level.
Lt. Paul Henderson, Halstead's chief of staff, said the preliminary investigation has found no evidence to suggest that Baker ran a stop sign or had any fault in the collision.
"Right now the preliminary reports are showing that because he was driving twice the speed limit, she did not have a chance to see him," Henderson said.
Cisneros evidently was at a party at The Pour House on West Seventh Street before the crash. Henderson said investigators are looking into reports that 10 to 20 other officers were also present. The investigation also involves three off-duty officers, including two sergeants, who were working security at the bar that night.
"Culpability is what it's really about," Henderson said. "Determining culpability of those present, whether they were working there off-duty or whether they were attending the celebration.
"We're trying to determine what their culpability is, if they had any."
Halstead said the internal investigators are exploring whether officers knowingly let Cisneros leave the bar intoxicated and whether they were aware that he was driving a city vehicle without authorization.
"If there are other violations of policy that existed that night, every single one of them will be addressed in a manner consistent with the way the organization has addressed them in the past," Halstead said.
The chief said he is also ordering an audit of vehicle procedures "to ascertain what steps can be taken from this point to ensure officers who are not authorized to use department vehicles outside of their duty hours are in compliance."
"Preliminary information indicates [Cisneros] was not authorized to use this vehicle after hours and does not have take-home privileges," Halstead said.
Carolyn Beck, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that the state agency is investigating where Cisneros had been drinking.
'This needs to stop'
Police officers should be held to a high standard of scrutiny 24 hours a day, Halstead said.
"I want all our employees to understand I expect their behavior off-duty to be just as exceptional as their behavior on-duty," he said.
The chief said he plans to work with the department's peer counselors, chaplain and employee groups to encourage employees to report off-duty behavior that violates department policy and the law. He said he also hopes to create a culture in which employees seek help for themselves and their colleagues.
"We stand here with photos and depictions of fallen officers, some of those killed by drivers, and yet this still occurred?" Halstead said as he spoke to reporters gathered in the department's memorial room in the downtown headquarters. "I think that's the point of the investigation."
This year, three Fort Worth officers have been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on DWI charges while off-duty. Officers Autumn Wheat and P. Payton were initially given 30-day suspensions in lieu of indefinite suspensions but were later fired after being convicted on the
The third officer, E.G. Carr, was indefinitely suspended just over a month after his arrest. Halstead has told the Star-Telegram that he fired Carr before his case went to trial because a dash-cam video shows that the off-duty officer was combative with Keller police.
"In my tenure as chief, there have been too many arrests of our personnel for DWI incidents," Halstead said Tuesday. "This needs to stop. I will not tolerate it."
Halstead said he talked to Baker's husband, Demond "Mario" Baker, Tuesday afternoon and promised to do everything he can to see that justice prevails. Halstead said he told Baker that he would be honored to walk with him and his family in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving event in April in memory of Sonia Baker.