Fresno officer's alleged Proud Boys connection investigated

Rick Fitzgerald, the Fresno police officer accused of being associated with far-right extremist group the Proud Boys is no longer employed by the Fresno Police Department and the city of Fresno, Mayor Jerry Dyer said on Friday.

Video Transcript

- Fresno police officer is on paid leave while the department investigates whether he's involved with an organization that's been labeled a far right hate group. Action News Reporter, Corin Hoggard, is live in downtown Fresno now with new information from this investigation. Corin.

CORIN HOGGARD: Warren, the police union has recruited an attorney for the officer because of the severity of the allegations that he associated with Proud Boys during Tower Theater protests and marched with them in Sacramento. Spotted at Tower Theater protest Sunday was Fresno Police Officer Rick Fitzgerald, but the veteran officer was not part of the force keeping the peace.

Protesters trying to stop the sale of the theater to Adventure Church say Fitzgerald was friendly with counter protesters, so they did some digging into photos and videos from this protest and others. They accused Fitzgerald of participation with the Proud Boys, who have attended tower theater protests and are designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama heard the accusations. Without naming the officer, he said he put the man on paid leave and launched an internal investigation, with the support of Mayor Jerry Dyer.

MAYOR JERRY DYER: We will not tolerate any city employee that belongs to, or affiliates with, associates with, an organization that promotes supremacy, promotes criminal activity, or promotes racism.

CORIN HOGGARD: Mayor Dyer confirmed Internal Affairs will try to assess the level of the officer's involvement. Michael German of the Brennan Center for Justice tells me that shouldn't be the end of it.

MICHAEL GERMAN: What we see over and over again is that some episode will will demand some attention because there is public outrage, but then that attention will wane until the next problem occurs.

CORIN HOGGARD: German went undercover with white supremacist groups when he worked at the FBI. He says FBI counterterrorism guidance asks agents to change tactics with the groups because they often infiltrate law enforcement, so police departments need to make a conscious and constant effort to root out far right bias.

MICHAEL GERMAN: But a big part of it is law enforcement recruits from the general population, and this is an issue that exists in the general population.

CORIN HOGGARD: And the Public Defender's Office tells me they've identified at least 20 active criminal cases involving Fitzgerald. They're going to investigate those, see if there was any bias involved that could impact those cases. They may also go back and check on already closed cases. Live in downtown Fresno, Corin Hoggard, ABC30 Action News.