A Fresno, California, police officer was fired Friday after online images and videos surfaced showing his alleged involvement with the far-right group the Proud Boys, Fresno police said.
Rick Fitzgerald had been placed on paid administrative leave last month and an internal investigation was launched, the department said.
It is unclear what level of involvement the former officer had with the group, but videos posted to social media showed he participated in at least one protest alongside some of their members, according to the department.
“The Fresno Police Department has separated itself from Rick Fitzgerald, and he is no longer employed with the City of Fresno as a police officer,” the police department said in a statement Friday.
Fitzgerald told CNN affiliate KFSN that he had started his own group, The Sons of 76, after seeing the behavior of some Proud Boys at a Sacramento protest and leaving.
“I saw how some conducted themselves and said this is not something I want to be a part of, because there’s no honor or integrity,” he told the station. “I left the next day and started my own group, The Sons of 76. We just do community and charity.”
Fitzgerald said he’s been with the police department for nearly 20 years and vowed to fight his firing in court.
“I did my job with integrity,” he told KFSN. “I have no major cases against me. Even with this, they have no evidence of racism. I won’t take this sitting down.”
Fitzgerald said he received a package informing him of his firing.
“No one reached out to me,” he told the station. “No one wanted my side of the story.”
The police department said legal constraints prevented it from commenting further.
“I stand by and reassert my prior comments in strongly disapproving of any police officer affiliating with hate groups, or any group known for engaging in violent criminal behavior,” Fresno Police Chief Juan “Paco” Balderrama said.
“Such ideology, behavior, and affiliations have no place in law enforcement and will not be tolerated within the ranks of the Fresno Police Department,” he said. “The integrity and legitimacy of our police department must be maintained.”
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer accused the former officer of “egregious violations of department policy” and condemned his alleged involvement with the Proud Boys.
“I am pleased that Officer Fitzgerald will no longer be serving as a police officer with the City of Fresno,” Dyer said. “As Mayor, I want to reiterate to the community that I will not tolerate any form of racism displayed by City of Fresno employees.”
The group’s ideology has been labeled “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration” by the Anti-Defamation League. Members of the Proud Boys have been indicted by the Justice Department for storming the Capitol earlier this year.
In a statement, the Fresno Police Officers Association (FPOA) said Fitzgerald had not been given a hearing or the opportunity to provide a statement in his own defense.
The FPOA said it was looking into whether Fitzgerald’s rights to due process had been violated.
“The FPOA fully supported Chief Balderrama’s initial decision to conduct a thorough and objective investigation into this matter,” the FPOA said in a statement. “However, this investigation was not given opportunity to be carried out to its completion before a (judgment) was rendered and discipline was executed.”
The statement added: “We want to reiterate our shared concern regarding the allegations raised, as well as our support for accountability within our department and profession. As a department, city, and community, our call for accountability must be consistent. This also holds true in holding to account all those entrusted with the power to carry out due process; that they do so appropriately and without prejudice.”