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Fresno police officer tied to Balderrama probe appears to pressure city to force chief to resign

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama.
Pablo Orihuela
/
Fresnoland
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama.

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FRESNO, Calif. - A text message reviewed by KVPR appears to show at least one Fresno City Council member was pressured to force Police Chief Paco Balderrama to resign in order to avoid legal action against the city.

KVPR's review of the text message and publicly available records showed the message came from a number tied to Jordan Wamhoff, who, according to four off-the-record sources, filed a complaint to the city earlier this year alleging Balderrama had an affair with his wife. Two of those confirm the complaint links the affair to a promotion he applied for but did not receive.

Wamhoff, 38, has been an officer with the Fresno Police Department since 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile, and is also a Madera County Supervisor, an elected position.

The message, which was sent earlier this month, outlined the terms of Wamhoff’s proposed deal, including a new position in the department for Wamhoff and for Balderrama to resign. The message stated that if the terms were met, the city would not be subject to legal action.

A high-ranking city official, who showed KVPR the text message and asked not to be named due to fear of retribution, said multiple councilmembers had received messages laying out similar terms. Those councilmembers either denied receiving a message, declined to comment or did not respond to calls from KVPR.

When KVPR called the number from which the text message that it reviewed was sent, the outgoing voicemail greeting said the number belonged to Jordan Wamhoff.

Wamhoff did not respond to multiple messages KVPR left requesting comment.

Brian Whelan, an attorney representing Wamhoff, declined to say whether his client sent the text message. Whelan also declined to make Wamhoff available for an interview unless this news outlet signed an agreement that would prevent it from disclosing Wamhoff’s name, and allow him to review the story and make changes before publication. KVPR reviewed the agreement but did not sign it.

Such agreements between the media and subjects or sources are unusual in American journalism. Whelan told KVPR that several media outlets in the region “have been provided disclosure agreements” but did not specify whether those outlets had signed them.

In an email, KVPR offered Whelan a final chance to respond to the findings in this story; Whelan did not deny or comment on them.

Allegations against Chief Balderrama began to surface publicly following a city statement to the press on June 6 that announced it had “commenced an administrative investigation” related to an “inappropriate off-duty relationship he was involved in with a non-city employee.” The statement explained the City Attorney’s Office had retained an independent investigator to determine whether Balderrama violated department policy, but provided few other details.

The city has declined to comment on any matters related to its investigation of Balderrama.

According to the high-ranking city official, the investigation has mainly focused on whether Balderrama abused his power in his professional dealings with Wamhoff.

After the investigation was announced, Balderrama sent a letter to the police department regarding “the highly publicized announcement of my involvement in an off-duty relationship” and apologized.

"It is so very true that there are two sides to every story, but I do not intend to justify or defend myself regardless of any unknown circumstances," Balderrama wrote. "I own my mistakes, they are mine and mine alone to bear, and I will pay for those mistakes for the rest of my life."

The text message came to light as the investigation into Balderrama’s alleged misconduct is set to wrap up this week. According to the official with knowledge of the investigation, the city is not expected to find that Balderrama violated policy. The official added the findings are not expected to be made public right away.

Earlier this month, City Manager Georgeanne White distributed an email to city staff saying Balderrama had been placed on paid leave ”in the best interest of all parties involved.”

Balderrama, 47, is Fresno’s first Latino police chief, and the 23rd chief in its history. He was previously a deputy police chief and officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department.

This story was produced with support from the California Newsroom, a collaboration of public media outlets throughout the state, with NPR as its national partner. 

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is KVPR's News Director. Prior to joining the station's news department in 2022, he was a reporter for PBS NewsHour and The Fresno Bee.