Trial of Fired Fresno Police Officer Allowed to Continue – GV Wire

Was a tweet by Mayor Jerry Dyer against a fired Fresno police officer defamatory?

A jury could make that decision after a federal judge denied the city of Fresno’s motion to dismiss the count.

The city fired Richard Fitzgerald in April 2021 after video emerged of him attending a counter-protest at the Tower Theater in Fresno, as well as another protest the year before in Sacramento.

The city called Fitzgerald a racist, words that could come back to haunt Dyer. Judge Anthony Ishii ruled that a jury would assess whether Dyer’s statements on Twitter were defamatory.

Fitzgerald filed a seven-count lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court. The city successfully transferred the litigation to the Federal Court. The parties will return to court on May 24 for a scheduling conference.

Ishii released his 20-page decision last week.

In a 2021 interview with GV Wire, a lawyer for the police union said Fitzgerald was a former member of the Proud Boys, which is a far-right extremist group.

The defamation claim is valid

Fitzgerald’s accusation that the city and Dyer defamed him will remain a part of the trial. In an April 10, 2021 Twitter post, the mayor accused Fitzgerald of “participating with the extremist group Proud Boys, it is clear to me that there have been gross violations of department policy.

Ishii rejected the city’s argument that Dyer should be protected from consequences. Fitzgerald’s lawyer’s argument that the tweet came from a confidential investigation convinced the judge.

“Dyer properly discharged his duties when he posted his statement on Twitter, the Court finds that the dismissal…is improper,” Ishii wrote.

Dyer also wrote on Twitter “I want to reiterate to the community that I will not tolerate any form of racism displayed by City of Fresno employees.”

Ishii wrote, “If the court finds that the statement can reasonably be construed as fact or opinion, the matter must be decided by a jury.”

The judge said Dyer’s statement calling Fitzgerald a racist “involved an assertion of fact.”

Due Process Count Rejected

Ishii granted the city’s motion to dismiss a count alleging deprivation of due process by Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald requested a hearing before a hearing officer regarding his dismissal. The judge was unmoved by Fitzgerald’s argument that this was insufficient.

Ishii also ruled in favor of the city on other counts in the trial, primarily on technical grounds. One charge was dismissed for dismissal. Fitzgerald will have the opportunity to re-testify on the other counts to correct the errors.

Read the Fitzgerald Court decision

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