(AP) — A Connecticut police officer has retired after a civil rights organization raised concerns about his membership in a far-right group known for engaging in violent clashes at political rallies, a town official said Friday.
Officer Kevin P. Wilcox retired from the East Hampton Police Department on Oct. 22, according to Town Manager David Cox. That was one week after The Associated Press reported that Wilcox had been a Proud Boys member and made online payments to a group leader.
Wilcox had been an East Hampton police officer since 1999. His retirement was a “revision” of a previously planned retirement date in December, Cox wrote in an email.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called for Wilcox’s removal from the police department after it inquired about his social media connections with other Proud Boys members.
In September, East Hampton Police Chief Dennis Woessner told the organization that Wilcox’s Proud Boys membership didn’t violate department policies.
Kristen Clarke, the civil rights group’s president and executive director, said Wilcox’s retirement is “an important first step” but shouldn’t be the final word on the matter.
“It’s important for us to know who else he may have influenced and how his superiors failed to catch his extremist ties,” Clarke said.
Woessner described Wilcox as a “dedicated law enforcement officer.”
“There is no evidence of any racial bias in any of his policing through his entire career,” the chief said Friday.
In a letter to Clarke earlier this week, the chief said he reviewed the last 10 years of arrests made by Wilcox and found that three of the 60 arrests involved black people. Wilcox also made 21 traffic stops between Jan.1, 2017, and Sept. 13, 2019, and only stopped one black person during that period, the chief told Clarke.
East Hampton is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Hartford. White people account for roughly 90% of its population of nearly 13,000 residents.
In a Sept. 13 letter to Clarke, Woessner said Wilcox had “stopped his association” with the Proud Boys in February, about five months before the Washington-based committee initially inquired about the officer’s social media connections to other group members.
The chief also confirmed that Wilcox made online payments to a group leader. The civil rights group described those publicly visible, online transactions as monthly dues that helped fund the Proud Boys’ “violent or otherwise illegal” activities.
But the chief said he reviewed the matter, received an “explanatory report” from Wilcox and closed the department’s inquiry as being “unfounded,” with no evidence to support a policy violation. Wilcox “adamantly denies being associated with white supremacists’ groups,” the chief wrote.
Wilcox hasn’t responded to text messages and voicemails left at an apparent telephone listing for him.
Clarke said her organization’s inquiry about Wilcox was part of its nationwide effort to expose law enforcement officers with possible ties to extremist groups.
“Frankly, his superiors should have been doing this work. But if they won’t, we’ll do it,” she said.
Wilcox isn’t the first law enforcement officer linked to the Proud Boys, a group started in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes.
Last year, a Louisiana sheriff’s department fired a deputy who had publicly identified himself as a Proud Boys member and was an administrator of the Facebook page for the group’s local chapter. The Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office said its deputy violated an internal policy prohibiting employees from engaging in social media activity that “negatively affects the public perception” of the department, The New Orleans Advocate reported in August 2018.
McInnes and the Proud Boys have described the group as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists” and deny affiliations with far-right extremist groups that overtly espouse racist and anti-Semitic views. In February, McInnes sued the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling the Proud Boys as a hate group.
In response to the lawsuit, the law center said Proud Boy members often spread “outright bigotry” over the internet and have posted social media pictures of themselves with prominent Holocaust deniers, white nationalists and “known neo-Nazis.”
In New York City in October 2018, police arrested several Proud Boys members who brawled with anti-fascist protesters following a speech by McInnes at a Manhattan Republican club. Proud Boys members also have frequently clashed with counterprotesters at rallies in California and Oregon.
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