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Constable candidate has long discipline history during career as deputy

 A campaign sign for Precinct 8 constable candidate John Wright near Brentwood Stair Road Feb. 12, 2024.
Miranda Suarez
A campaign sign for Precinct 8 constable candidate John Wright near Brentwood Stair Road Feb. 12, 2024.

Hitting a person with his car. Firing a gun in the air. Improperly serving eviction papers.

Those are some of the actions Precinct 8 constable candidate John Wright has been disciplined for over his two-decade career as a deputy constable, according to public records obtained by the Fort Worth Report and KERA News.

Wright is challenging incumbent constable Michael Campbell in the Democratic primary. The two have most recently been embroiled in an ongoing civil lawsuit over whether Wright lives in the district he’s running to represent. The Report and KERA requested the complete civil service files for both Wright and Campbell. Civil service files include information on misconduct that resulted in discipline, other personnel actions and performance evaluations.

Campbell’s file did not note any disciplinary action during his career. Documents in Wright’s file show that in his career as a deputy constable, he has been subject to at least 15 disciplinary actions, including three terminations. He has been disciplined by each of the three constables he has worked under during his career.

But Wright said the majority of his record is the result of discrimination and retaliation from two of his three superiors. He referenced instances where he filed complaints against a superior and then received discipline after.

“I don’t think any of the terminations were appropriate at all,” he said.

Campbell, his opponent and one of the former employers that terminated Wright, disagrees. Campbell said the residency dispute is not the first instance in which he’s questioned Wright’s ethics.

“He’s had a lot of discipline where he did not serve papers properly,” he said. “I have numerous complaints about him in reference to his job performance.”

Across his tenure with all three constables, allegations of not serving or incorrectly serving citations and other court papers have persisted.

“I don’t agree with those allegations,” Wright said. “I’m not perfect by no means. And have I ever had a paper lost or something like that? It happens to all of us, when you have a tremendous amount of papers coming through. You’re going to misplace the citation, maybe find it later, whatever.”

Most recently, Wright was the subject of multiple disciplinary actions in 2022 from his current employer, Precinct 2 Constable Robert McGinty.

“Your conduct and job performance continue to show a pattern of inefficiency, neglect and failure to meet the written standards of job performance noted above which are expected from a veteran deputy with approximately 20 years of full-time deputy constable experience in Tarrant County,” McGinty wrote in a September 2022 discipline letter.

Former constable fired Wright twice

Wright was terminated in 2004, 2011 and 2019. But terminations don’t necessarily mean an employee is gone for good.

Tarrant County employees can appeal their termination to the Tarrant County Civil Service Commission. Wright appealed both his 2011 and 2019 terminations to the commission, whose three members have remained the same since 2008. Both times, he was reinstated.

Former Precinct 8 constable Chester Luckett sent Wright his first termination letter in December 2004, wherein he alleged Wright created a hostile work environment. The areas of major concern, he said, were Wright’s refusal to follow orders; his taping other employees secretly; and conspiracy.

Wright contested the termination and requested reinstatement. Luckett initially refused, only to change course and reinstate Wright in January 2005. The termination did not go before the civil service commission.

Wright alleges Luckett had previously pressured deputies to give him a cut of their earnings from off-duty jobs, and that his termination was in retaliation for reporting that to human resources. He said no action was taken as a result of his HR report. When reached by phone, Luckett declined to comment on Wright’s discipline history.

Documents show Luckett terminated Wright a second time in 2011, after several lower level disciplinary actions in the years prior. In a termination letter, then-chief deputy constable John Thompson said he had discovered Wright failed to return multiple recalled court documents over the span of several years.

“The ongoing failure to correctly serve court documents has also been addressed in your annual performance reviews,” Thompson wrote.

Wright disputes what led to the termination. He described it as further retaliation for his 2004 complaint against Luckett. He said Luckett waited several years before targeting him again in order to build up a history of lower level discipline he could use to justify his termination.

Records show a discrimination complaint Wright filed with the Texas Workforce Commission after his termination was dismissed.

Primary opponent previously fired Wright

Wright continued working in Precinct 8 after that, and stayed in the precinct when Luckett retired and current constable Campbell was elected in 2012. Wright received a three-day suspension in 2014 and a verbal reprimand in 2015, followed by a memorandum in 2018 regarding civilian complaints about civil processes not being served in a timely manner.

In 2019, Campbell terminated Wright. A termination letter sent by Chief A.G. Gardner listed several reasons for his firing, including shooting his gun in the air as a “warning shot” when several people tried to break into his home. Warning shots are prohibited in the precinct’s policy manual for safety reasons.

“That was extremely dangerous to the public,” Campbell said. “He deserved discipline for it, and he got it.”

The police report from the incident states that Wright initially told officers he fired one shot “into the air.” Wright said he did fire a shot, but that it was aimed at a suspect and not at the sky. He missed, he said, but that didn’t make it a warning shot.

Wright appealed his termination to the Tarrant County Civil Service Commission. The commission ultimately ruled in Wright’s favor and reinstated him in June 2019.

Again, Wright alleged the termination was retaliatory. He referenced a double-dipping scheme revealed by CBS-11 in 2017, which ultimately led to four deputies from Precinct 8 being charged for working off-duty jobs on county time. He said he had previously brought up concerns about the issue to Campbell.

“He felt … that I had turned him in,” Wright said.

Campbell, who was not charged as part of the double-dipping scheme, said it had nothing to do with his decision to terminate Wright. Instead, he pointed to Wright’s previous infractions, in combination with the warning shot. He disagrees with the civil service commission’s decision to reinstate Wright.

“He was terminated by the rules, and by the policies of the office of Precinct 8,” Campbell said.

Discipline continued under current employer

After regaining his job at Precinct 8, Wright eventually moved to Precinct 2, where he has worked for three years under McGinty. Wright said while things will never be 100% perfect, his experience working at Precinct 2 is much better than his time working under Luckett and Campbell.

During his tenure at Precinct 2, he has been disciplined four times and received several counseling sessions and letters of concern, according to civil service documents. Concerns about properly serving court records have persisted.

In April 2022, Wright had his driving privileges revoked for a month and was made to take a defensive driving course. That came after Wright hit a pedestrian with his car while on-duty. The pedestrian, who was not in a crosswalk, was transported to a hospital. Wright said it was an accident.

“I’m the type of person, if there’s a dog injured on the street, I’m gonna stop and pet that dog,” he said. “I avoid hitting squirrels … I love people, I love animals. I would never do that intentionally at all.”

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Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Emily Wolf | Fort Worth Report
Miranda Suarez