Courtroom consequences? Fresno officer admits previous Proud Boys membership

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Fresno officer admits previous Proud Boys membership
Legal problems are likely to follow the shock of the discovery that a Fresno police officer was a member of the extremist group.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Legal problems are likely to follow the shock of the discovery that a Fresno police officer was a member of the extremist group, the Proud Boys.

The police department put Rick Fitzgerald on paid leave and is conducting an internal investigation, where Mayor Jerry Dyer says photos and video will help determine Fitzgerald's level of involvement.

Fitzgerald's attorney tells Action News the officer acknowledges he was a Proud Boy, but says he left the organization a few months ago over disagreements.

But defense attorneys say his involvement taints any criminal case where he played a role.

Fitzgerald has worn a Fresno police uniform for 19 years, and Navy blue before that, but he wore a different shade of blue at Sunday's Tower Theatre protests.

Protesters who spotted him wearing his Sons of 76 uniform recognized him from a previous protest where they saw him wearing the uniform of the Proud Boys, which is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says Fitzgerald's appearance in Proud Boys gear at a November 2020 protest in Sacramento will likely create big problems in the court system.

"The fact that it's been uncovered that this police officer has been a member of the Proud Boys will bring into question every single one of the cases that he was involved with," Capozzi said.

In fact, the public defender's office tells us they've identified more than 20 active criminal cases involving Fitzgerald and they'll examine every one of them for any hint of bias.

Several private defense attorneys say they'll check active and closed cases, and they believe the district attorney's office will have to notify defendants if Fitzgerald played any part in their cases.

"I think the responsibility is clear that they have to reveal the fact that this police officer is involved in this case, that he was a member of the Proud Boys, and that he's currently under investigation internally," Capozzi said.

The DA's office told Action News it has a review process in place for situations like this.

Fitzgerald's attorney, Roger Wilson, acknowledged the optics of previous Proud Boys membership are bad, but he wondered if it violates any policy since the group isn't designated a criminal street gang.

Fitzgerald was one of eight officers involved in a deadly shooting in the Tower District 11 years ago, but Wilson noted Fitzgerald more recently got a letter of commendation for de-escalating an incident involving an armed Black suspect.

Wilson told us he's hoping to meet with Chief Paco Balderrama soon so they can get the issue resolved.