Weatherford police took 40 minutes to get to the Parker County Courthouse on Saturday after the police chief received a text message from a protester reporting that people “were surrounding us and threatening to shoot us.”
Protesters marched to the square to peacefully demand the removal of a Confederate statue at the county’s courthouse. But when about 75 of them showed up, they were met by hundreds of counter protesters and violence between the two groups ensued.
The text messages between Tony Crawford, an organizer of Parker County Progressives, and Police Chief Lance Arnold were read aloud on Tuesday night during the Weatherford City Council meeting.
Arnold did not immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday. When an email was sent to him, an automatic response said he is out of the office. A call and email sent to Deputy Chief Chris Crawford were not immediately returned.
Copies of text messages, which were printed and given to the Star-Telegram, show that Arnold and Crawford began talking about the protests on Friday. Crawford told the chief that protesters would be walking to the courthouse. Crawford promised that if anything happened, he would “shut it down myself.”
Arnold warned Crawford that Weatherford “is not Dallas or Fort Worth and this community won’t stand for what has happened over there with businesses and blocking traffic.” Crawford agreed.
At 3:10 p.m. on Saturday, Crawford texted the chief “I’m here at the courthouse. It’s packed already.”
Arnold asked “With patriots? Or BLM?” then asked that Arnold’s group not block roads and intersections.
“We can escort you for safe travel, but we can’t allow a total shut down of the road unless we are just helping you get across,” the chief said.
Five minutes later, Crawford sent the chief a text that said the patriots “are surrounding us to force confrontation. We are surrounded by guns and people talking about shooting us loudly.”
Ten minutes later, Arnold responded, “We are briefing now. We’ll have units up there in a few. We have a live feed camera there.”
At 4:26 p.m., Crawford told Arnold that they heard the KKK was on its way to the square.
Twenty minutes later, Arnold responded, “We should be out there soon.”
An hour later, at 5:46 p.m., Crawford texted the chief and said, “where are the police, chief. This is ridiculous. We are being abused. Where are y’all.” The chief responded, “blocking traffic and dispersing everyone.”
Crawfold told Arnold that he believe police abandoned them and “let us get dragged and attacked while you did nothing.”
Arnold responded: “We saw instigators on both sides and shut it down. Didn’t abandon anything and all of our recorded video will show the same.”
“We are appalled at the lack of security that allowed that escalation,” Crawford told the Star-Telegram during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m here today to let the community know our police didn’t do their job.”
Scanner traffic reviewed by the Star-Telegram from the night of the protest revealed that just before 5:30 p.m., a dispatcher asked that police shut down all traffic to the square. A minute later, someone on the radio said “all units get back in your vehicles and back away from the square.”
Immediately, someone on the channel confirmed that one person was in custody.
That person, Mitchell Hardin Jr., a 44-year-old white man from Fort Worth, was seen by police at 5:35 p.m. charging at a Black man and attempting to tackle him, according to an arrest warrant. Hardin was cited for disorderly conduct for instigating the fight and was released after being processed at the jail.
At 7 p.m., as police were giving commands for the crowds to disperse, Raymond Petraska, a 56-year-old white man from Weatherford, was seen by a lieutenant provoking a Black protester by poking and cursing at the man, who was leaving the area, according to a police report.
In a phone conversation with the Star-Telegram on Wednesday, Petraska said he never touched the man, but may have been pointing his finger as they exchanged words.
Petraska said the man — who left the area and hasn’t been identified, according to the report — was “talking trash” and that the man’s wife later threatened him.
“Yes, I should have had a thicker skin and I did get mouthy but at no time did I touch anybody,” Petraska said. “We were, at the closest, 15 feet apart.”
Lt. James Peel intervened in the argument and told Petraska to let the man leave, but Petraska “continued to advance toward the participant in an aggressive manner while cursing using his hands in a combative nature,” the police report says.
Peel was not in uniform and, according to a video taken of the arrest, was wearing a red shirt with no identification. Petraska said when Peel grabbed him from behind, he said, “You better be a cop if you’re grabbing me,” and Peel said he was.
Petraska said he asked the officer to show him his badge, but that Peel didn’t. In the police report, Peel wrote that he couldn’t let go of Petraska’s arm to show him his badge.
“To this day, I still have not seen a badge,” Petraska said. “I apologize that any of my actions in that video brought bad press into Parker County, but at the same time I’ve been called a racist and a troll and a patriot and a hero, what happened in that video does not make me any of those.”
Petraska was taken into custody on a citation of disorderly conduct and then released from the jail about three hours later.
Mayor Paul Paschall addressed the protests on Tuesday evening, saying that the right to peacefully protest, regardless of individual opinion, is part of the Constitution and is supported by Weatherford.
“The citizens and business community of Weatherford witnessed terrifying, disturbing and careless actions unfold at the steps of the Parker County Courthouse,” Paschall said. “The inappropriate actions that occurred are not condoned in any shape, form or fashion by the city of Weatherford, its mayor, its city council, citizens or business community.”
Parker County Judge Pat Deen said the statue will be moved as soon as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that owns it, raises money to move it. Weatherford cannot take any action about the statue since it is on Parker County property.
Paschall said he is formally requesting that Deen and county commissioners “publicly approve a date-certain action plan with the Daughters of the Confederacy to have the statue relocated.”