Texas firefighter seeks back pay after suspension for biting man in bar fight

Fort Worth Firefighter Michael Benningfield was placed on unpaid suspension after being charged with aggravated assault with serious bodily injury


Domingo Ramirez Jr.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Fort Worth firefighter who was temporarily suspended in 2016 for biting a chunk out of the forehead of a bar patron during a fight at a hotel is trying to get back pay for that time, according to city records.

A hearing is scheduled Wednesday before the three-member Civil Service Commission for firefighter Michael Benningfield's appeal for back pay.

The hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Fort Worth City Hall, 200 Texas St.

Once the hearing is complete, the commissioners will go into executive session to deliberate the appeal and they will then reconvene to vote on the appeal.

Benningfield was placed on temporary unpaid suspension on Aug. 26, 2016, two days after the Fort Worth firefighter was charged with aggravated assault with serious bodily injury. The suspension was handed down by then Fort Worth Fire Chief Rudolph Jackson.

In October 2019, Benningfield was sentenced to two years of probation on an assault with bodily injury charge, according to Tarrant County criminal court records.

Information was not immediately available on Tuesday on Benningfield's status after his suspension or when he returned to the department.

Benningfield could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The fight involving Benningfield occurred on Jan. 10, 2016.

Off-duty Fort Worth police officer V.E. Gray was working security at the Omni Hotel, 1300 Houston St., when he saw two men fighting inside the Whiskey & Rye bar, according to a police report.

Gray ran inside to find the men on the floor. He yelled, "Fort Worth police! Break it up!" the report states.

One of the men, Shawn Merriman, then 39, told investigators that he put his hands up when he heard the officer's shout. That's when Benningfield bit him on the forehead, Merriman said. The officer's report states the bite took a "chunk" out of Merriman's forehead, just above his right eye.

Unable to break Benningfield's grip on Merriman, the officer placed his Taser on Benningfield's stomach area and "drive stunned" the firefighter, causing him to release Merriman, the report said.

Merriman told police he was at the bar for a surprise party for his upcoming 40th birthday. He said he bumped Benningfield with his elbow as he worked his way toward the crowded bar to get a glass of water.

Merriman told police he had just told Benningfield, "Excuse me, I need to get in here," when Benningfield turned around, punched him and grabbed him, and the two men fell to the floor fighting, Merriman said.

Merriman said that when the officer saw them wrestling on the floor and shouted to stop, he was ready for the altercation to end. But as he was getting up, Benningfield grabbed his head and latched onto his eyebrow, Merriman said.

When the officer deployed his Taser, Benningfield ripped off part of his forehead and spit it on the floor, Merriman said.

Merriman said he carried the chunk of skin to the hospital hoping that doctors could sew it back on.

In September 2018, Merriman filed a lawsuit against Benningfield, Omni Fort Worth Hotel and SC Beverage Company alleging the bar and the hotel were negligent for allowing the firefighter to become intoxicated.

But Merriman later dropped the lawsuit in 2018.

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(c)2021 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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