Rick Fitzgerald, hours after being told he was fired as a Fresno police officer, did not hold back on his thoughts about his now former employer.
“It’s ironic that I work for a police department where when I arrest people, they’re innocent until proven guilty. But in this case, I was just guilty from the first day. So the irony was thick,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald — a 20-year Fresno PD veteran — spoke with GV Wire, live on Facebook for approximately 16 minutes.
On Friday, the department fired Fitzgerald for his ties to the extremist Proud Boys group. The group has been described by some, including the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
“Based on the progress of the investigation, that the violations involved were egregious. Egregious to the point where it would require a separation from service for the officer,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said Friday afternoon.
Criticism for Dyer, Balderrama
Fitzgerald learned of his dismissal from Deputy Chief Mark Salazar. Chief Paco Balderrama was exercising his emergency powers as chief.
“They’re basically claiming that I committed a felony while I was up in Sacramento, which is easily disprovable,” Fitzgerald said.
He says his firing came after community groups pressured Dyer and Balderrama.
“This is political shenanigans run amuck with a mayor who will hesitate to throw no one under the bus if it makes himself look better,” Fitzgerald said.
He challenged Balderrama’s leadership skills.
“I’m waiting for him to be the chief. When does when does he start being the chief? Because as far as I can tell, Mayor Dyer, good ol’ Jer Bear, he’s the one who’s pulling all the strings.
Fitzgerald says there is a video he believes police are using that showed him engaging in violence while at the Sacramento protest. He says that is not true.
“You tell me that that Paco made this call when he’s in Oklahoma City? Did he see the video? Did anybody watch the video? So this is Jerry Dyer wanting to push his politics. He wants to say I’m this big white supremacist guy when I’m not even white. And he wants to pat himself on the back and make himself look good. And you know what? Right now it’s me. But tomorrow, it’ll be somebody else. Because, Jerry, that’s just who he is. That’s who he’s always been,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald says his ethnic background includes Mexican heritage.
Dyer would not reveal the exact nature of the Fitzgerald’s violations.
Once in the Proud Boys
Fitzgerald admits he was a member of the Proud Boys for about a year, but denies they are a criminal or hate organization.
“It’s a men’s fraternity based on a joke, basically, that got a bad rap because they were trying to defend freedom of speech,” Fitzgerald said.
“I talked to all the prospects, which I really liked because I could kind of guide them and show them, hey, we’re not racists or anything like that. So I really like being able to have that interaction,” Fitzgerald said.
He left the group after attending a Sacramento protest over California’s COVID lockdown or in support of the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom (he couldn’t remember which, he said).
“When you’re in the Proud Boys, you’re always having to hide. And I didn’t like that,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald says calling the Proud Boys a hate group is wrong.
“I would like to know what race they’re… trying to push considering the chairman is a black Cuban and the Fresno chapter was started by a Mexican and had, I would say, no less than six minorities,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald calls the Proud Boys involvement in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol “stupid.”
Fitzgerald’s police union attorney, Roger Wilson, said an appeal and lawsuit are possibilities.
“The department, with their false allegations and their inability to conclusively prove that I committed a crime, I have a feeling that could potentially come back to bite them,” Fitzgerald said.
Wilson said the city denied his client’s due process. Dyer denies that.
“The officer will still have due process. (The) officer has appeal rights, can go through the court system. But at this point in time, the city of Fresno also has a responsibility to make sure that actions are taken in order to deal with the immediacy of a problem,” Dyer said.
Fitzgerald says the city has no proof he is racist, because he’s not.
“They sent me the packet that they’re using to say why they fired me. And ironically, they’re labeling me a racist, but nothing in the packet — there’s nothing racist in the packet — not one thing, not a text, not a comment I made on Parler (a social media platform popular with right-wing groups). Nothing,” Fitzgerald said.
He said there are active police officers that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“(It is) another big fat slice of irony, considering BLM is marching down the street saying ‘pigs in a blanket fry them like bacon.’ But that’s OK. And you have BLM, who’s actually responsible for four deaths in Dallas, but nobody cares about that. Let me ask you, how many people have the Proud Boys killed? None,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald realizes this incident could end his law enforcement career.
“Who would hire me?” he asked.
Recognized at Tower Theatre Protest
Fitzgerald attended a Tower Theatre protest on March 14, along with a friend from a group known as “Sons of ’76.” Fitzgerald describes “Sons of ’76” as community service group.
Opponents of the sale to Adventure Church have demonstrated every Sunday since January.
If the sale goes through, protesters say, then licenses for businesses that sell alcohol or cannabis may in jeopardy because of proximity to a church. Fitzgerald agrees with that rationale.
“I’m kind of on the Tower side. I wouldn’t want those places to close down. We don’t have a lot of artsy places in Fresno. And I would be upset, too, like we need to keep the Tower District as it is,” Fitzgerald said. “I was more on the side of the LGBT community because I understood their gripe.”
A Twitter user, watching a live stream of the protest, recognized Fitzgerald and connected him to attending a protest in Sacramento in November while wearing Proud Boys garb.
Hours later, Balderrama learned of Fitzgerald’s connection to the Proud Boys and Fitzgerald was put on administrative leave.
A sergeant informed him he needed to turn in his gear.
“(The sergeant) said, this is complete B.S. He goes, I don’t know anybody in this department that does more for the community outside of work than you. This is B.S.” Fitzgerald said.
He does not regret attending.
“If the argument is that when you’re off duty, you can’t go stand and watch a protest, I mean, that’s a pretty thin argument,” Fitzgerald said.
District Attorney Continues Investigation
The office of Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp says they are continuing to investigate past cases Fitzgerald was involved in.
“We are continuing to identify cases involving Fitzgerald and we remain committed to working with the defense bar in addressing any issues,” FCDA spokesman Jerry Stanley said.
Fitzgerald said they will not find anything.
“I only write good cases,” Fitzgerald said.