A Fresno police officer allegedly joined Proud Boys demonstrators on Sunday, prompting the city's chief to launch an internal probe and declare he won't tolerate departmental ties to "any criminal or hate group."
For weeks, demonstrators in the central California farming hub have been outside the Tower Theatre hoping for sidetrack its sale to a church that critics claim is hostile to gay rights and marriage equality.
Those rallies have been frequently met by counter-protests, led by the far-right Proud Boys, and YouTube footage of Sunday's dueling demonstrations allegedly showed a police officer among the self-described "Western chauvinists."
“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,” Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said in a statement.
“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. Fair and impartial policing are extremely important in our society. There is no place in our police ranks for any biased, racists, or anti-Semitic views.”
Balderrama did not name the officer in question.
Mayor Jerry Dyer, a former Fresno police chief, said any allegations of officer affiliation with the Proud Boys is "extremely disturbing" and will be "taken very seriously.”
“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," he said in a statement. "This matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken to address any misconduct.”
The Fresno Police Officers Association said in a statement that the allegations "are very troubling" and of "great concern."
The union said it supports Chief Balderrama's investigation and "echoes the sentiments of Mayor Dyer, recognizing that racism, discrimination and criminal conduct among our ranks is absolutely intolerable."
The theater's potential sale to Adventure Church will likely come down to interpretation of city zoning codes on whether a place of worship should be allowed in the Tower District, a neighborhood best known for its dining and nightlife offerings.
A church official could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.
In an interview last month with NBC affiliate KSEE, Adventure pastor Anthony Flores was asked if his church is supportive or hostile toward gay marriage and he declined to answer: "I don't want to get into that right now because that has nothing to do with the sale."
In a statement announcing its intentions to buy the theater in January, Adventure said it does not believe a zoning variance is necessary to operate a church at that location and insisted that it "welcomes all people from all backgrounds."