Rick Fitzgerald, the former Fresno police officer who was fired for his ties to the Proud Boys, filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Jerry Dyer, City Manager Tommy Esqueda and Police Chief Paco Balderrama.
Fitzgerald was initially placed on leave on March 14 after videos surfaced on social media that connected him to the Proud Boys.
The city initiated an investigation and quickly fired the former cop on April 9.
In the lawsuit, Fitzgerald says that he was not involved with the Proud Boys at a Tower Theatre protest in March. Instead, he was present for about 15 minutes with the group that he founded – “The Sons of ‘76” – and did not take part in the protest.
“The purpose of the Sons of ‘76 was to perform works of civic charity in order to promote patriotism and belief in American ideals,” the lawsuit states.
Fitzgerald also pushed back against several social media posts that the city said tied him to the Proud Boys, and he said he left the organization last November.
“The allegations made against Fitzgerald were false. Fitzgerald had not been a member of Proud Boys since approximately November 2020. Proud Boys was not a racist organization. Fitzgerald is not racist. Fitzgerald is Hispanic. Proud Boys was a multi-racial organization,” the lawsuit reads.
“The Instagram pictures of him wearing a comic book character’s costume, namely that of ‘the Punisher,’ while allegedly holding an AR-style rifle with a caption that said ‘(s)hit is a lot easier when you can kill people,’ was a picture of The Punisher, a Marvel comic book character that Fitzgerald ‘cosplayed,’ i.e., portrayed at various comic conventions and the quote was taken directly from Season 1, Episode 7 of the Netflix television show entitled ‘The Punisher.’”
The lawsuit claims that the city unlawfully terminated Fitzgerald by not providing him all pre-removal procedural due process safeguards as mandated by the Fifth and 14th Amendments. Fitzgerald also claims that the city fired him in retaliation for his exercising of his First Amendment rights.
“As proximate result of such retaliation, Fitzgerald suffered pecuniary damages including lost wages and benefits and non-pecuniary damages, including emotional distress, anxiety and depression,” the lawsuit reads.
Fitzgerald also claims the city and Dyer defamed him in a statement the Mayor released on April 10 that said the former cop committed “egregious violations of department policy.”
The lawsuit says that the Mayor’s statement reads as if Dyer had knowledge that Fitzgerald was fired because he was racist.
Fitzgerald said that statement is false and called Dyer’s conduct “fraudulent, oppressive, and malicious.”