Vilmaris Montalvo was on a tight deadline July 30, 2021. A pregnant, Hispanic dual language teacher in Arlington, she took her lunch break to pick up her husband from a Fort Worth hospital following surgery.
After noticing a Fort Worth patrol car following her for several miles, Montalvo pulled over.As soon as she stopped, a police officer pointed at her face and ordered “Get out of the car ma’am, you’re under arrest. And don’t. Make. Me. Pull. You. Out!”
Montalvo began to cry. She stepped out of her car, explaining that she was pregnant and feared losing the baby. The officer responded, “Why do you think that because you’re pregnant you don’t have to follow the rules?”
Montalvo didn’t make it to the hospital. She was arrested, taken to jail and eventually released with several tickets. Her offense — not slowing to pass an emergency vehicle.
Body camera footage, interviews and documents obtained by the Report show a long and complicated fallout from Montalvo’s July arrest.
Montalvo felt wronged. Since the incident, she’s had trouble sleeping or driving, accompanied by frequent anxiety attacks. In response, she filed a complaint with the department, hoping for restitution. What she got was a letter saying the officer in question, James Reynolds, did nothing wrong. She persisted by filing another complaint, this time with the police oversight monitor.
Though she didn’t know it, by the time Reynolds pulled Montalvo over in July 2021, he had amassed more than two-dozen complaints during his time with the department, few of which resulted in disciplinary action.
Her dual complaints set off an internal affairs investigation, monitored by the oversight office, which ultimately led to a seven-day suspension of Reynolds. Body camera footage, internal interviews and documents obtained by the Report offer a window into how the relationship between the city’s oversight office and the police department has evolved in the two years since the accountability program’s inception.
One of oversight’s biggest accomplishments: mandating tracking of internal affairs investigations, which includes instituting a requirement for the department to inform citizens about the result of their complaint.
“If oversight is doing its job, everyone benefits, both officers and community members,” said Cameron McEllhiney, director of training and education with National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, based in Indiana.
For Montalvo, oversight hasn’t done enough. She’s starting therapy for PTSD while juggling the responsibility of new motherhood.
“They’re there, but they don’t have any power,” Montalvo said. “They don’t have power over disciplinary action; they couldn’t help me deal with my tickets. I think they can do way more.”
“Fort Worth enjoys cooperation from the police department in a way others do not”
Fort Worth created the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor with a singular goal: to improve transparency and accountability within the Fort Worth Police Department. The city tapped Kim Neal, former head of police oversight in Cincinnati, as the office’s leader.
“Primarily we’re here to serve as a voice for the community,” Neal said.
It came about as a result of the city’s race and culture task force, which offered several recommendations to improve race relations in Fort Worth in 2018. Among those recommendations was a call for civilian oversight of the police department.
“The first reaction was why are you implementing a new program that costs taxpayers?” Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, said. While initially skeptical about the office’s creation, Ramirez now supports Neal’s efforts at bettering the department.
In the two years since its inception, the office has recommended dozens of policies to better the department including a revised de-escalation policy, improved tracking of citizen complaints and a foot pursuit policy. Overwhelmingly, these recommendations have been accepted.
“We value that opinion and perspective,” Ramirez said. “That’s the culture here. … We are open to anything that’s gonna make our department more trusted.”
The oversight office also created its own portal and form to accept complaints against Fort Worth officers. Once received, those complaints are reviewed and, if necessary, forwarded to the police department for investigation.
“Fort Worth enjoys cooperation from the police department in a way others do not,” McEllhiney said. “There are very few oversight agencies that enjoy great friendship with police departments.”
Once internal affairs takes over a complaint, the oversight office is largely hands-off. Disciplinary decisions are under the exclusive jurisdiction of Chief Neil Noakes, per city charter, and are made through consulting the department’s disciplinary matrix, which outlines appropriate discipline for various violations of General Orders. The matrix is not available on the city’s website; the Report obtained it through a records request.
“There are very few oversight organizations across the country that can implement discipline,” McEllhiney said. “One of the most powerful parts of oversight is when people are able to monitor and audit discipline. From those audits and the monitoring actions, they can make recommendations to fix things that may seem broken in the system.”
Only one complaint out of 125 submitted since the office began accepting complaints has resulted in disciplinary action longer than a one-day suspension, according to records obtained by the Report. Thirteen additional complaints were listed as in-progress in the office’s biennial report, released in May.
Department violated policy on arrest complaint
When Montalvo first filed a complaint with the police department Aug. 3, Detective Jay Doshi was assigned to investigate. Aug. 5, he concluded there was no violation of policy during the traffic stop and closed the complaint.
In his email informing Montalvo of the closure, Doshi provided contact information for the oversight office if she wanted to contact them as well. That information is now required after a policy recommendation by the oversight office.
The investigation was reopened at the urging of others within the department, who were concerned several issues had been overlooked. It was then reassigned to Sgt. Anthony Rimshas, who reached back out to Montalvo on Aug. 25.
“Detective (Doshi) has been counseled about the fact that he made a mistake in closing it in the first place,” Capt. Fred Long said in an interview with Reynolds in September, according to a transcript the Report obtained.
Department policy is to not close an internal affairs investigation before moving it up the chain of command unless it has “absolutely no merit whatsoever,” Long said. Doshi’s decision was inconsistent with the policy, which is intended to provide a multi-layer review of allegations.
How to file a complaint against a Fort Worth police officer
Residents have two options when filing a complaint. They can contact the Police Oversight Monitor’s Office, or the Fort Worth Police Department, to file a complaint. If filed with the the oversight office, its staff members will monitor the internal affairs investigation as it is being conducted. If filed with the police department, oversight staff will not monitor the ongoing investigation.
A resident may also contact the oversight office after an internal affairs investigation is concluded.
To file a complaint with the oversight office, click here.
To file a complaint with the police department, click here.
As the department decided to reopen its investigation, Montalvo filed a second complaint with the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor, again laying out the circumstances of the stop and how she felt her rights had been violated.
“Please confirm receipt, provide updates to our office regarding complaint number IA2021-295,” wrote Kenny Smith, policy adviser with the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor, in an email to the police department Sept. 19., 2021. “OPOM will monitor the FWPD investigation and provide recommendations as appropriate.”
Police Chief Neil Noakes said members of his department meet bi-weekly with the oversight office to discuss ongoing investigations, but there is a constant line of communication and the office has access to all internal records on the investigations.
“This is all brand new,” Noakes said. “And one thing we found working with Neal, she’s been a wonderful collaborator, because I believe we’ve improved our communication process with OPOM since all this started.”
Accused officer: Police monitor is ‘trying to put our scalps on her belt’
As the department continued its investigation into Reynolds’ misconduct throughout 2021 and into 2022, the officer insisted the complaint had been reopened only because of the oversight office’s alleged bias against police officers. Reynolds complained specifically about Neal, who has led the office since 2020.“We see that monitor as, man, she’s just trying to put our scalps on her belt,” Reynolds said in a pre-disciplinary interview with Noakes. “She doesn’t care if it’s right or wrong. She just wants to justify her position.”
During the interview, Reynolds repeatedly railed against the oversight office and what he characterized as undue influence on the department.“If the department yields to the monitor’s office when they’re clearly wrong, you’re doing nothing but empowering that office to take it a step farther next time,” Reynolds said to Noakes. “You’re the one with the authority here, not her … if you keep feeding the monster, they’re just gonna get stronger and bigger and badder. You know this.”
McEllhiney, the national training expert, said when officers face oversight, they may try to save themselves by discrediting others.
“If everyone’s happy with you, I’m guessing you’re not doing your job,” she said.
Neal and Noakes acknowledge the uphill battle the oversight office faces in getting rank- and-file officers to respect civilian oversight. Nationally, there has been consistent pushback against outside organizations dictating police policy, and a fear that disciplining officers will make them afraid of doing their jobs. Reynolds expressed that same fear during his interview with Noakes.“I think sometimes you don’t realize the street level effects of decisions you make,” Reynolds told Noakes. “You don’t know how much distrust there is out there among my peers. It is burning out there. We don’t trust you guys to treat us right ever.”
In an effort to gain buy-in from officers, Neal and her employees drop-in at police stations to introduce themselves, talk with officers and answer any questions they may have about the oversight office. Sometimes, she said, they have misconceptions about how the office works, and she’s happy to clear them up.
“They’re the ones community members see the most,” Neal said. “They’re the ones who receive most of the complaints … we’re talking to them, first of all, to give them a quick overview of who we are, and trying to eliminate any false rumors that are out there about the office.”
Noakes said Neal’s drop-ins have been helpful to gaining trust and dispelling rumors circulating among the officers.
“There was some uncertainty among officers, and, of course, rumors fly in any organization,” Noakes said. “I can talk to them until I’m blue in the face. We send out information, but actually being able to sit across from Ms. Neal, ask questions and have her answer face-to-face, went a long way to quelling fears officers may have had.”
Ramirez said much of the pushback against the oversight office can be attributed to a fear of the unknown. When he went out into the field and spoke with officers, none could point to an incident with the monitor that had negatively impacted them personally.
“That’s one example of how we kind of worked through that growing pain, I would say, and we did it just by increasing communication about what roles and responsibilities there were,” he said.
Some oversight offices across the country have started publishing the results of citizen complaint investigations to further transparency. One such office is Seattle’s, which has a public database of all closed cases, including an incident summary; what the allegations were; if they were sustained; and any other analysis and conclusions.
“In cities like Seattle, it’s all online,” McEllhiney said. “It does require lots of manpower.”
In Fort Worth, the department will publish post-disciplinary reviews within a few weeks of the discipline being carried out. No reviews are currently available on the department’s site. The oversight office creates its own summary report, including policy recommendations, within 90 days of internal affairs completing its investigation.
Ramirez said the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association would be against any public portal detailing officers’ disciplinary history. The job happens at a thousand miles an hour, he said, and mistakes are going to happen.
“These officers, whenever they are issued discipline, how long is it going to follow them?” he asked. “We would advocate for a mechanism of removal … it’s unnecessary in our opinion, and a violation of privacy rights.”
“So you have a degree, you don’t know the rules and you are lying to me.”
Reynolds has been employed by the department since 1992. It took him only one year to start racking up internal affairs investigations. In 1993, Reynolds was the subject of three separate investigations, one of which was substantiated. He was suspended for “untruthfulness,” according to department records.
The next year, he was involved in two investigations, one of which resulted in a sustained complaint for violating standard operating procedures. Then, he was admonished by command.
The pattern continued throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. Sustained complaints during that time found Reynolds engaged in unprofessional conduct, was discourteous, took an unauthorized job and released confidential information.
In 2015, a resident accused Reynolds of calling him a ‘wife beater’, but the complaint couldn’t be sustained because Reynolds did not turn on his car’s dashboard camera. The department gave him one-on-one counseling on turning on his camera in the future.
In 2019, two residents complained about a Facebook post by Reynolds that allegedly referred to people of color as ‘thugs.’ The complaints were closed without action by the department.
By the time Reynolds pulled Montalvo over in July 2021, he had amassed 29 complaints during his time with the department, eight of which were substantiated.
Possible complaint outcomes
Unfounded: The investigation proved that the acts complained of did not occur, or the member named in the allegation was not involved in the act or acts, which may have occurred.
Exonerated: The act or acts, which provided the basis for the allegation or complaint occurred; however, the investigation revealed the act or acts were justified, lawful, and proper.
Sustained: The investigation found evidence to clearly prove the allegation made in the complaint.
Not Sustained: The investigation did not find sufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation made in the complaint.
Complaint Withdrawn: The complainant withdrew his/her complaint.
Smith, the oversight office’s policy adviser, said in an email to Neal that three other complaints — in 2015, 2019, and 2020 — were not sustained but Reynolds acted “very unprofessionally.” Under Texas law, details of unsustained complaints are not available publicly.
“No matter the situation we may be in, it’s very important for police officers to maintain professionalism,” Noakes said.
Montalvo received two citations from Reynolds, one for failing to vacate a lane and another for failing to yield right of way to an emergency vehicle.She repeatedly told Reynolds she didn’t know why she’d been arrested.
When they arrived at the jail, she again told Reynolds that she was a teacher and didn’t understand what was going on.
He replied, “So you have a degree, you don’t know the rules and you are lying to me.”
Once Montalvo was taken into the jail, an employee began to ask her health-related questions. She disclosed that she had asthma, hypoglycemia, and was getting weekly progesterone shots to avoid a miscarriage. Only then did Reynolds decide to release her.
“The only reason I am not putting you in jail is because I don’t want you to lose your baby, I am taking you to the judge and I will give you a ton of tickets.”
Montalvo said in her report that since the incident, she has not been able to sleep or drive because of continued emotional distress. Now, she said, she’s beginning therapy for PTSD as a result of the incident.
“I feel like I can’t trust the department at all,” Montalvo, whose father was a former police officer, said. “How can I trust these officers now? I felt unsafe, even though it was the police.”
A random review of 130 body camera videos over a six-month period in 2021 found 12 examples of Reynolds being rude or discourteous during his encounters with the public.The review, conducted by a fellow police officer, was prompted by Montalvo’s complaint. Montalvo said she was not made aware Reynolds had other substantiated complaints against him.
“I’m really afraid of him working like nothing happened,” she said. “It could happen again to someone else and get worse.”
As Reynolds sat in internal affairs interviews, Montalvo was lying in bed. After the incident in July, she’d started having early contractions, and her doctor recommended bed rest until she reached full-term. Montalvo was forced to take time off from her job as a teacher, which she’d secured earlier that year.
“I regret not going to the hospital that day,” Montalvo said. “I was in shock, and (Reynolds) knew I was in shock. He returned me to my car, kept yelling at me, and then left.”
Eventually she gave birth and welcomed her new child, but her anxiety around the incident didn’t go away. Instead, she found herself wondering what would’ve happened if she’d had her three older children, one of whom is autistic, in the car that fateful day.
“It would’ve been very traumatic for them,” she said. “If you happen to be a single mother, with your kids in the car, what happens to your kids?”
Disciplinary matrix doesn’t include punishment for bias policing
The department’s internal affairs unit investigated nine separate allegations against Reynolds from his interaction with Montalvo — discourtesy, disrespect, improper cash bonding, de-escalation, pursuing a vehicle for a non-violent misdemeanor, illegal search of a vehicle, bias policing and two different kinds of unprofessional conduct.
Six of the allegations were sustained. Two, discourtesy and disrespect, had recommended punishments of two- to five-day suspensions in the disciplinary matrix.
“The disciplinary matrix should allow for mitigating circumstances, such as the number of complaints,” McEllhiney, the national training expert, said. “They should have additional disciplinary options for repeat offenders.”
In the case of Reynolds, his previous disciplinary history meant the matrix’s recommendations were more severe. This was Reynold’s third sustained allegation of discourtesy. The matrix recommends a two- to five-day suspension for third-time offenses, and a five-day to indefinite suspension for fourth-time offenses. If an officer is discourteous five times, the matrix recommends indefinite suspension.
“The matrix gives us a guide,” Noakes said. “Here’s a range of discipline, acceptable for certain allegations. There are mitigating factors sometimes, and there are aggravating factors sometimes.”
Bias policing was not one of the sustained allegations. Reynolds argued he had no way of knowing Montalvo was Hispanic, or a woman, when he decided to pursue her car and make the arrest.
“It is insulting that I even know about this (allegation),” Reynolds told an internal affairs investigator during a pre-disciplinary interview. “There is nothing to suggest this is racially motivated or gender motivated. Even in her stupid complaint right here, tell me why … all she says is, ‘I’m a Hispanic female and I feel my rights were violated.’ Well, tell me how. She can’t even articulate how she was singled out because of her race or gender. It’s ridiculous.”
During the investigation, Rimshas emailed several questions to Montalvo, asking her to specify exactly how she’d been discriminated against. Montalvo didn’t respond, a fact which was cited in the department’s decision to call the bias policing allegation unfounded.
“I wasn’t ready to respond that quickly,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t want to deal with any communication with police officers at that time.”
Even if the bias policing allegation had been sustained, there isn’t a punishment listed for the conduct in the department’s disciplinary matrix. Noakes said he didn’t know the last time the matrix had been updated. The department later told the Report the matrix was updated August 2020.
Sgt. Amy Heise, a spokesperson with the department, said there is not a set schedule for updating the matrix, but it “can be revised as needed when new policies are added that are not already covered by the matrix.” Internal affairs can also look at previous discipline decisions to guide them if the matrix does not specify a discipline, Heise said.
When asked by investigators when he realized she was Hispanic, Reynolds told them he didn’t know until he’d stepped out of the car and announced he was arresting her. His police report of the incident lists Montalvo as a white female. Sgt. Amy Heise said this is fairly normal in police reports, where someone’s race may be listed separately than their ethnicity.
“It’s very often that Hispanic and white are in the same category,” Heis said. “The reports have race, and then there is an ethnicity box where they can check Hispanic.”
Annual data on racial profiling released by the department shows that, of 36,043 traffic stops in 2021, 36% involved Hispanic residents. Hispanic residents were overrepresented in stops compared to non-Hispanic white residents — involved in 32% of stops — despite non-Hispanic white residents making up 39% of the city’s population. The report also pointed out only 19% of Hispanic residents live in households with vehicle access.
Now, when Montalvo drives her children to appointments in Fort Worth, her head is on a constant swivel.
“When I drive, I’m shaking,” she said. “I’m looking everywhere all the time, trying to see if there’s a police officer behind me.”
The records behind this story:
The Report submitted a public records request for current, complete copies of the citizen complaint forms the Office of the Police Oversight Monitor has received since its inception, along with the completed Fort Worth Police Department investigation and the oversight office’s recommendation, when available. The records cost $164.50. A single complaint – the file regarding Reynolds – was released to the Report through the public records request. The rest of the complaints were private under Texas law, which says cities can’t release misconduct reports if an officer wasn’t disciplined.
The Report then submitted a public records request for body camera footage related to the complaint against Reynolds on July 30, 2021. The footage cost $98. The Fort Worth Police Department charges $1 for each minute of body camera footage, and a $10 copy charge for each video.
In total, the records behind this investigation cost $262.50.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.