By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent
MALAKOFF–The family of an Iowa man who died of a heart attack following a reckless driving incident with an off-duty Malakoff police officer late last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, where the later-indicted officer remains on administrative leave with pay.
Records obtained through a public information request made April 23 by The News and obtained June 6 include court documents filed April 24 in federal court in Marshall by Tyler and Sulphur Springs attorneys representing the family of William Livezey. The suit alleges that the city of Malakoff used “substandard and inadequate hiring and screening policies” when it hired Ernest Fierro, who has a checkered past as a Dallas police officer.
The lawsuit also claims the city of Malakoff “implemented policies, procedures and practices which actually interfered with and caused (Fierro’s) wrongful acts and/or omissions,” according to the court filing. The lawsuit continues: “These official policies of the city of Malakoff were the moving force behind the wrongful acts and/or omissions plead for herein that was a direct and proximate cause of the death.”
The Livezey lawsuit asks a jury to award an unspecified amount “for each element of damages that is just and fair, based on the evidence.” Also filed in federal district court was an April 28 summons to Malakoff Mayor DeLois Pagitt notifying the city of the lawsuit, which names both Fierro and the city of Malakoff as defendants.
Other documents obtained through the public information request show that Fierro’s Malakoff employment application included his Dallas police record. That record reflects Fierro’s Nov. 2005 resignation while under investigation for a violation of the department’s chase policy, and 2001 termination following Class B misdemeanor criminal accusations not specified in documents, which Fierro successfully appealed down to a 20-day suspension to continue his Dallas police employment. A police officer who resigns while under investigation usually loses his or her state peace officer’s license, but Fierro successfully appealed to state officials to keep it, The Dallas Morning News reported in 2008.
Fierro’s employment file also includes letters of recommendation, including one from a former Dallas Police Department (DPD) colleague and another from the mayor pro tem of the Ellis County city of Ferris, where Fierro worked before Malakoff.
“I have always found Ernesto to be very reliable, truthful, ethical and very hard-working,” wrote Armando Dominguez Jr., a senior corporal with the DPD canine squad.
Ferris Mayor Pro Tem Gary Ross also put in a good word for Fierro during his Malakoff job application process. “I recommend him to you without reservation,” Ross wrote. Fierro resigned July 15, 2013 with a general discharge from the Ferris Police Department and was eligible for rehire, according to documents, then was hired July 31 by the city of Malakoff.
Other former employers were not as glowing. In a background investigation questionnaire dated July 25, Ferris Police Chief Sam Love was asked to categorize Fierro as an employee, with choices of excellent, good, average or poor. Love chose average. When asked how Fierro takes receiving corrections or being critiqued by a supervisor, Love wrote “fair.” When asked whether Fierro followed instructions well and worked well with co-workers, the Ferris police chief chose both yes and no.
Another document obtained through the public information request shows that Fierro was placed on administrative leave with pay from the city of Malakoff on Feb. 22 “pending further investigation and completion of a criminal trial,” Malakoff Police Chief Billy Mitchell wrote in a letter sent to Fierro’s Dallas address officially notifying the officer of the leave.
That letter came three days after a Navarro County grand jury indicted Fierro Feb. 19 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, official oppression and reckless driving related to a Dec. 11 incident alongside State Highway 31 east of Corsicana, during which the grand jury indictment alleges Fierro ran Livezey off the road with his motorcycle, then held him in handcuffs until Navarro County deputies arrived on the Chambers Creek bottom scene after numerous calls to 911. Livezey, 70, soon fell ill and collapsed, then was sent by ambulance to Navarro Regional Hospital in Corsicana, where he died of a heart attack. Jury selection for Fierro’s criminal trial is set to begin July 21 in state district Judge James Lagomarsino’s Corsicana court.
Several other documents requested by The News were not produced by the city’s attorney, Hank Skelton of the Athens law firm Kugle, Skelton and Bennett, who claimed the information’s release was protected by state law. Some of those documents include the investigation into Livezey’s death by Cleburne-based Texas Ranger Michael Stoner, a memorandum regarding Fierro from Chief Mitchell to City Administrator Ann Barker the day after Livezey’s death, and an affidavit from Fierro five days after the incident.