Vallejo PD Takes So Long To Investigate Officers, They Often Kill Again Before Their First Investigations Are Closed
from the longer-you-delay,-the-longer-you-can-stonewall dept
The Vallejo PD kills people. That’s an undeniable fact. It does so with alarming frequency, considering the size of its force. Between 2010 and 2020, the PD’s officers killed 19 people. But the PD is uninterested in reducing the number of times its officers kill.
Vallejo police have killed 19 people since 2010, renewing calls for criminal justice reform and a request for federal oversight of the department.
None of the officers have been charged criminally for any of these shootings in the last decade, as each case was deemed justified because officers feared for their lives. Yet, many of their families say that police have acted with excessive force and have given false accounts about why they felt the need to shoot and kill their loved ones are false.
There may be a reason for this (beyond the obvious lack of accountability). Last March, a Vallejo PD whistleblower alleged officers were being informally rewarded for shooting citizens. A clique within the department regularly held celebratory barbecues to honor officers who’d shot people, bending the point of their badge tips to tally up killings in the line of duty..
The report, published by Open Vallejo, contained these disturbing details.
Open Vallejo cites the controversial shooting of Willie McCoy as the impetus for this anonymous whistleblowing. McCoy was shot by Vallejo police officers in a Taco Bell drive-thru, where he had apparently passed out. Restaurant employees called the PD, which sent officers to perform a wellness check. Instead of seeing whether anything was wrong with McCoy, officers surrounded the car and killed McCoy when he awoke and moved one arm towards his shoulder. Vallejo officers fired 55 rounds in less than 3.5 seconds, killing McCoy.
It wasn’t the first time Vallejo cops emptied their magazines into someone they were supposed to be arresting or helping. At the tail end of a chase involving an alleged robbery suspect, Vallejo officers shot the suspect — who was carrying a knife and slowly moving towards them — 41 times.
According to Open Vallejo’s source, one of McCoy’s killers — Officer Ryan McMahon — got a bend on his “star” for this shooting. This would be his second “bend” in less than a year.
According to the same source, nearly 40% of the department’s officers had been involved in at least one shooting.
A new investigation — published by ProPublica in conjunction with Open Vallejo — helps explain why the department is so prone to violence. A major contributor is the department itself, which shows almost no interest in holding officers accountable for excessive force deployment.
Now, Open Vallejo and ProPublica have looked at what happens inside the department after those killings occur, examining more than 15,000 pages of police, forensic, and court files related to the city’s 17 fatal police shootings since 2011. Based on records that emerged after dozens of public records requests and two lawsuits filed by Open Vallejo, the news organizations found a pattern of delayed and incomplete investigations, with dire consequences.
One of the cases cited is the killing of Ronell Foster, something that started with a stop for a minor traffic violation involving a bike, morphed into a tasing and beating of Foster, and ended with Officer Ryan McMahon shooting Foster seven times: four in the back, two in the side, and one in the head.
The department took 18 months to even get around to reviewing this case, ultimately finding only that McMahon had violated policy by escalating a minor traffic violation stop into a beating and killing. It recommended he be “punished” by attending a training course on officer safety and tactics. By that time, McMahon had already killed another person, Willie McCoy, during another controversial shooting.
Six times since 2011, an officer who has killed someone has killed again while still under investigation for the first shooting. In those six instances, the shortest investigation lasted 243 days. The longest? 1,470 days — more than four years.
Even if other officers involved in killings have refrained from killing again while under investigation, it has little to do with the department’s handling of these cases. On average, it takes the Vallejo PD 20 months to complete an investigation. In some cases, witnesses weren’t interviewed for months. In some cases, witnesses were never interviewed at all. All of this violates county policy, which states:
[D]epartment officials are responsible for “immediately” securing crime scenes, including identifying and sequestering witnesses in order to obtain their statements.
And this was not the only way foot-dragging occurred.
In 11 of the 17 cases, investigators did not meet a 30-day goal set by the county to complete their reports. Detectives often took even longer to request analysis on important evidence, such as bullets fired by officers, fingerprinting, DNA samples and weapons allegedly carried by the victims. In six investigations, Vallejo sent requests for evidence testing to a crime lab half a year or more following the killings. In most of those cases, the delayed analyses appear to have hampered the investigations or led to cases being closed by investigators before some forensic reports could be included.
Vallejo officers aren’t dumb. They know the department isn’t interested in investigating them. They know there will be no consequences for them if and when the investigations finally close. And the lack of accountability extends all the way to local prosecutors, who rely almost solely on the PD’s internal investigations and conclusions to make charging decisions.
The PD knows what it’s doing as well. Keeping investigations open means being able to deny public records requests or provide statements. The longer the investigation is open, the more likely it is that by the time it’s concluded, the public will have moved on to another outrage, even if it’s one perpetrated by a Vallejo PD officer.