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Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama resigns, city finds no abuse of power after investigation

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, right, and City Manager Georgeanne White, left, announce details from an investigation into Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama on Tuesday, June 25, 2024.
Kerry Klein
/
KVPR
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, right, and City Manager Georgeanne White, left, announce details from an investigation into Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama on Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

This story was updated on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 at 11:20 a.m.

FRESNO, Calif. – Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama resigned on Tuesday, leaving the department in the state’s fifth largest city searching for a new leader while it recovers from a scandal over an affair between the chief and an officer’s wife.

The resignation was announced at a press conference by Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer at the same time he and City Manager Georgeanne White delivered the result of an administrative investigation by an independent attorney that found Balderrama did not abuse his power in his handling of personnel issues with the officer, who KVPR learned is Madera County Supervisor Jordan Wamhoff.

Speaking at City Hall in downtown Fresno, Dyer and White did not name the officer. But sources told KVPR Wamhoff filed a complaint to the city in February alleging Balderrama had an affair with his wife. Wamhoff further alleged he’d been passed over for a promotion because of the affair, which prompted the investigation.

“I am able to state that this allegation was not sustained. And evidence to the contrary was presented,” White said.

She added that the investigation – which so far has cost the city around $25,000, according to City Attorney Andrew Janz – did not find Balderrama prevented Wamhoff from advancing in the police department.

Later, a city spokesperson shared a statement from Balderrama, which said, “this is the right time for me to step away and focus on my faith and family.”

Dyer and White criticized news reports, which White said created a “media circus” around the investigation and “printed gossip and innuendo” – like the allegations of Balderrama’s abuse of power – as fact. Balderrama was placed on administrative leave on June 12 – a week after the city went public with news of the investigation that has rattled the community.

White and Dyer praised Balderrama for his time as police chief. Dyer said Balderrama was “a good fit for Fresno,” who created relationships in the community and “did some remarkable things for the city” including hiring hundreds of new officers and reducing rates of violent crime.

He noted, however, that Balderrama’s affair with an officer’s wife fell below the standards expected of a police chief.

“We do believe this resignation by the chief is in the best interest of the community, the police department and our employees, as well as for Chief Balderrama and the families involved,” Dyer said.

Balderrama apologized to the police department in a letter sent on June 11. He told KVPR on Tuesday he thought the investigation was fair and the outcome clearing him of wrongdoing in his professional capacity was “100% accurate.” He said he had been driven to tears by community members who had reached out in support while the investigation was underway.

Dyer: No pressure to seek chief’s resignation

Dyer, who served as Fresno’s police chief for 18 years prior to Balderrama, said the best thing the department can do is move on.

A national search for a new police chief is underway. In the meantime, Deputy Chief Mindy Casto has been appointed interim chief. Balderrama, who will not have a police badge or gun, will serve as a consultant to Casto, until his resignation is effective on July 25.

Dyer said most of their communication will be conducted by phone.

The resignation was sudden, even as some in the community speculated it would be impossible for Balderrama to return to his job and conduct business as usual.

A text message sent earlier this month by Officer Wamhoff to at least one Fresno City Council member appeared to call for the chief to resign. The message also demanded a new and flexible position in the police department for Wamhoff. In exchange, read the text, Wamhoff would not take legal action against the city.

Dyer said the message apparently sent by Wamhoff earlier this month calling for the chief to resign never reached his office.

The text message was sent to at least one Fresno City Council member and also demanded a new and flexible position in the police department for Wamhoff. In exchange, read the text, Wamhoff would not take legal action against the city.

Dyer did not name Wamhoff but said the officer who filed the initial complaint in the scandal will remain in his job.

Multiple council members either denied receiving a message or declined to comment or respond to calls from KVPR. However, after KVPR broke the story and revealed Wamhoff’s name and position as an elected member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, other council members corroborated this outlet’s reporting to the Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

An attorney representing Wamhoff, Brian Whelan, declined to make Wamhoff available for an interview for KVPR’s original story unless it agreed to conceal his name and sign an agreement giving Wamhoff permission to review and revise the story before publication – a practice that is frowned upon in American journalism.

Reaction to chief’s resignation

Whelan also declined to respond to KVPR’s request for comment about Balderrama’s resignation. However, other news outlets quotedhim as saying Balderrama’s resignation was a “victory.”

The Fresno Police Officers Association, the police union, also said in a statement that it had confidence in the department’s existing leadership and Balderrama’s resignation was “best for all parties involved.” The FPOA previously criticized KVPR for reporting Wamhoff’s name.

Sandra Celedon, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fresno Building Healthy Communities, a nonprofit advocacy group that has long criticized Balderrama for not engaging with Fresno’s residents, said the chief’s resignation is an opportunity to hire a new leader who is backed by the community.

“We encourage the mayor and the city to convene a citizens’ advisory committee to help select the next chief,” she said. “We need to get this right.”

In an email statement, Fresno City Council President Annalisa Perea said the scandal has caused “pain and disruption,” and said she hopes to rebuild trust in the community.

“As leaders, we must embody the principles of accountability and trust. These values are not just words but are the very foundation upon which our community and our institutions stand,” she said.

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.
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