The New Orleans Police Department on Friday fired a 25-year veteran of the force over an alleged road-rage beating in which the off-duty cop punched a driver so hard he went to the hospital following a minor collision, police said.
The officer, Tracy Fulton Sr., was terminated after an internal investigation found “clear and convincing evidence” that he had been the aggressor in the September 2013 incident with Eladio Cruz and that he had “ample time” to withdraw from a conflict that he instead escalated, police officials said.
Fulton, who claimed he acted in self-defense, lost his job despite being acquitted of second-degree battery last year in the same incident.
Fulton struck Cruz at least once, causing a concussion, according to testimony, though he argued at his trial that Cruz had swung first and also brandished a machete.
“There is no place in the department for individuals who choose to mistreat the people we have a sworn duty to protect and serve,” Superintendent Michael Harrison said in a statement Friday.
Fulton’s defense attorney, Eric Hessler, said he plans to appeal the termination to the Civil Service Commission. The Police Department fired “a good police officer,” Hessler said, adding that he believes Fulton ultimately will be reinstated with back pay.
“I think it’s an asinine decision,” Hessler said of the firing. “A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted in self-defense. It’s the only way he could have been acquitted of the crime.”
Fulton was involved in an accident at Earhart Boulevard and Monroe Street. He was off-duty at the time and was driving his personal vehicle. After the collision, Fulton got out of his Lexus and approached Cruz, who rolled up his window and locked the door, the internal investigation found.
“Instead of returning to his vehicle, Fulton opened the left-side rear door to Cruz’s vehicle and began using profane and derogatory language with Cruz and his passengers,” the Police Department said in a news release.
Fulton tailed Cruz as he left the scene and also reported the accident by phone to the department’s 2nd District Station and command desk. The news release said Fulton “could have provided ... a description of Cruz’s vehicle, including location and license plate number,” but that instead he followed Cruz a few blocks to his home and confronted him anew.
Hessler said Fulton only followed Cruz because police said they couldn’t send anyone to assist him.
Witnesses, including Cruz’s teenage daughter, said Fulton punched Cruz several times, pointed his service pistol at his face and called the man a “stupid Mexican.”
The NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau determined Fulton had grabbed Cruz by his shirt and struck him on the face and stomach area. Medical records showed Cruz received bone fractures in his face and a cut on his chest, in addition to the concussion.
Fulton was found to have violated departmental rules on moral conduct, professional conduct and maintaining standards of service. “Based on the results of the ... investigation,” Harrison said, “we made the decision to dismiss the officer immediately.”
Hessler said he takes issue with the Police Department applying a lower standard of proof, preponderance of the evidence, rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar that applied during Fulton’s trial last year.
Staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this report. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.