A California police officer has been put on leave for his alleged ties to the Proud Boys, department officials said.
The off-duty Fresno officer, identified by the Fresno Bee as Rick Fitzgerald, was spotted in a live-streamed video posted by a former Proud Boy during a protest on Sunday.
In it, Fitzgerald can be seen with far-right protesters wearing clothes identifying himself as “Sheepdog” with a group called “Sons of 76,” a local “patriotic fraternity” that focuses on community service and charity, according to the report.
The group was counter-protesting at a demonstration over the sale of the Tower Theatre, a historic performing arts space, to a church that’s believed to be anti-gay, the outlet reported.
Chief Paco Balderrama said the department was informed of the images and video on Sunday and stressed the importance of “fair and impartial” policing.
“Although at this point these are merely allegations and the matter will be fully investigated, it is important to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of our police department,” Balderrama said in a statement, which didn’t identify Fitzgerald by name. “Any allegations of actions unbecoming of a police officer or the affiliation with any alleged criminal or hate group will always be investigated and addressed.”
“There is no place in our police ranks for any biased, racists or anti-Semitic views,” the chief added.
Fitzgerald has identified himself as the president of the Fresno-based organization and its “gentleman combatants” but has previously said he was affiliated with the Proud Boys and encouraged people to join the extremist group — as well as the Three Percenters, a far-right, anti-government militia movement.
Fitzgerald has said on a podcast that he was part of the local Proud Boys group for roughly a year, rising to leadership levels, before leaving, according to the report.
“We’re gentlemen until it’s time to not be a gentleman anymore, and then we fight,” Fitzgerald has said. “And when we fight, we do it in an honorable way, and we do it in an efficient way, and we win. We finish the fight when it’s brought to us.”
The officer has also referenced his profession in other posts, including an Instagram photo from 2019 showing him wearing a “Punisher” mask while pointing a gun, the Fresno Bee reported.
“S–t is a lot easier when you can kill people,” Fitzgerald reportedly wrote.
Fresno’s mayor, Jerry Dwyer, said the images and video posted online allegedly showing Fitzgerald were “extremely disturbing.”
“As the mayor of this city, I will not tolerate any city of Fresno employee belonging to organizations that promote views of supremacy, racism or criminal conduct,” Dwyer said in a statement Sunday. “This matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken to address any misconduct.”