Category Archives: Vallejo Police

Former Vallejo officer’s stunning claims – says cops tallied killings on badges

[BenIndy editor: Former Benicia Police Chief Andrew Bidou figures in this story.  During his tenure as Vallejo Police Chief, he is alleged to have told an underling to “burn that bitch,” referring to kidnap victim Denise Huskins.  More below, and on OpenVallejo, and SFGate.  – R.S.]

Stunning allegation against Vallejo police: Officers bent badges to mark people they killed

Vallejo Police Officer Kim turns his car around in front of police headquarters. Vallejo may have sustained its 14th homicide last night, outpacing all of last year of twelve on Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Vallejo, Calif.
Vallejo Police Officer Kim turns his car around in front of police headquarters. Vallejo may have sustained its 14th homicide last night, outpacing all of last year of twelve on Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Vallejo, Calif. Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special to The Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle, by Anna Bauman & Demian Bulwa, 7/29/20

A former Vallejo police captain is accusing the department of firing him for flagging misconduct that included concerns that some officers bent their badges to mark fatal shootings and that a former police chief told an underling to “burn” a kidnapping victim he wrongly accused of orchestrating a hoax.

The captain, John Whitney, said that some officers would bend one tip of their seven-point star for each of their killings. He said he became aware of the practice in February 2019 after police fatally shot Willie McCoy in a Taco Bell drive-through, where he had passed out with a gun in his lap.

Whitney brought his misconduct concerns to Mayor Bob Sampayan, City Manager Greg Nyhoff and then-City Attorney Claudia Quintana, before he was released last August after 19 years on the job, his lawyer, Alison Berry Wilkinson, told The Chronicle.

According to his claim, Whitney was released “for expressing his professional opinions on a variety of misconduct issues within the Police Department.” The claim seeks back pay, benefits, attorneys’ fees and $25,000 for Whitney, who now works for another Bay Area police agency.

The city did not respond to the claim, filed Feb. 21 and amended March 24. Claims are considered rejected if not answered within 45 days, meaning Whitney can now file a lawsuit.

The claim does not mention the badge-bending allegations, but Wilkinson said they will be part of the lawsuit to come.

“I’m not able to speak to those allegations at this time,” Brittany Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Vallejo Police Department, said Tuesday evening. She said Police Chief Shawny Williams, who took over in November, was not immediately available.

Nyhoff and City Attorney Randy Risner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell told The Chronicle that the city was aware of previous complaints about badge bending.

“I am not aware of any current complaints related to badge bendings being filed with Human Resources, City Manager’s Office or City Attorney’s Office,” she said. “In conferring this evening with the City Manager, he noted that the Mayor had advised him last year regarding rumors of such a prior practice in years past at the Police Dept., and that he, the City Manager, then immediately consulted with former Police Chief (Andrew) Bidou, who indicated it had been previously investigated and such claims had not been substantiated.

“The City takes any claims or credible information regarding potential misconduct seriously and we will follow up with the appropriate investigatory measures, as well as take appropriate action based on information provided.

“Finally, as it relates to former Captain John Whitney, the City cannot comment on personnel matters and/or ongoing legal actions.”

The allegations by Whitney were first reported Tuesday by Open Vallejo.

According to Whitney’s claim, the city tied his firing to an investigation into a leak of confidential information, saying he improperly erased data from his phone amid the probe. Whitney said he had only erased personal information; he was exonerated in the leak case, Wilkinson said.

The allegations come as the Vallejo force faces intense scrutiny over a string of shootings in recent years. The state is investigating the department’s disposal of a bullet-shattered windshield in the June 2 police killing of San Francisco resident Sean Monterrosa, while separately reviewing the department’s policies and practices.

Whitney’s claim states that, before his termination, he had raised concerns about issues, including a car stop involving the cousin of Willie McCoy and the “embezzlement of time” by a high-ranking officer.

More explosively, Whitney said that, in 2015, former Police Chief Bidou told the department’s then-spokesman, Lt. Kenny Park, to “burn that bitch” — an alleged reference to kidnap victim Denise Huskins. Bidou retired last year.

The claim also states that Bidou told Whitney to “delete text messages on his cell phone so that they would not be downloadable during the litigation involving the Huskins’ kidnapping.” The city ultimately paid the couple $2.5 million in a settlement.

Bidou could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Huskins was kidnapped from her boyfriend’s Vallejo home and held for ransom before her captor let her go two days later. Rather than looking for the attacker, Vallejo police accused Huskins and her boyfriend of faking the whole thing. At a news conference, Park called it an “orchestrated event and not a kidnapping.”

The claim concludes that Whitney was “also retaliated against for truthfully answering questions posed by the City Manager and the Mayor concerning ongoing issues within the Police Department.”

After Whitney’s release, Mayor Sampayan wrote a recommendation letter for Whitney, saying, “Frankly, I believe that because John spoke out about a negative culture on the Vallejo Police Department, his reputation was soiled by those that did not want any ‘dirty laundry’ aired.” The letter was attached to the claim.

Wilkinson said that when Whitney found out about the badge-bending, he sought an investigation of the alleged practice. She said Whitney subsequently ordered supervisors at a meeting of the department’s command staff to inspect officers’ uniforms and collect any bent badges.

After 10 badges were turned in and held in a box in the office of Bidou’s executive assistant, Wilkinson said, Bidou told Whitney the repair costs could raise suspicion and cost him his job. Instead, the chief had the badges returned to officers, who were to fix them on their own, Wilkinson said.

“John Whitney repeatedly challenged unethical practices at Vallejo PD, including badge bending and destruction of evidence,” Wilkinson said. “ The City tried to silence him by firing him. Only the Mayor was willing to speak the truth about why Whitney was fired. No one else was willing to do the right thing.”

Body cam video: Vallejo officer shoots Sean Monterrosa through windshield, then asks if he was armed

Police footage shows Vallejo officer fatally shot SF man from truck’s back seat

San Francisco Chronicle, Megan Cassidy and Anna Bauman July 8, 2020
A screen capture from body camera footage that showed the police officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa on June 2 in Vallejo.
A screen capture from body camera footage that showed the police officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa on June 2 in Vallejo. Photo: Vallejo Police Department

Body camera footage released Wednesday shows that the Vallejo police officer who killed a San Francisco man in front of a Walgreens last month was in the back seat of an unmarked pickup truck that had just pulled up to the scene when he fired a high-powered rifle through the windshield.

Sean Monterrosa, 22, died after the 12:30 a.m. shooting on June 2, following a day of rallies and protests against police violence on people of color. The footage released Wednesday shows multiple views from inside the pickup truck, which officers used to respond to reports of looting at the store.

But it does not show Monterrosa as he was shot or at any point before he was struck due to the camera angles, and police said that a store security camera that might have captured the shooting had been disabled by looters.

Police Chief Shawny Williams previously said Monterrosa was on his knees and raising his arms, “revealing what appeared to be the butt of a handgun” when he was shot, but on Wednesday he offered a description that portrayed Monterrosa as an aggressor.

“One of our detectives described what he believed was 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa turning towards the officers in a crouching down, half-kneeling position, as if in preparation to shoot,” Williams said in a recorded statement. “At the same time, the detective saw Mr. Monterrosa move his hands toward his waist area, and grab what appeared to be the butt of a handgun.”

That could not be verified by the videos released Wednesday.

When asked why he changed this description, Williams told The Chronicle that he was clarifying the previous “narrative” that was not accurate.

Williams’ revised statement now aligns with the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association’s description of Monterrosa’s body language just before the shooting.

In a statement, the union wrote, “Rather than continuing his escape, Mr. Monterrosa chose to engage the responding officers. Mr. Monterrosa abruptly pivoted back around toward the officers, crouched into a tactical shooting position, and grabbed an object in his waistband that appeared to be the butt of a handgun. At no time did Mr. Monterrosa make any movements consistent with surrendering.”

The body cam footage from the pickup truck driver, which begins without sound because the body camera has an audio delay, shows the barrel of the rifle inside the vehicle and five rounds being fired as the truck comes to a stop. The officers get out of the car and yell orders at Monterrosa, who was killed by a single bullet.

“What did he point at us?” says the officer who opened fire.

“I don’t know, man,” says the officer who was driving.

“Hey, he pointed a gun at us,” says the officer who opened fire.

Body camera footage shows the officer involved shooting that resulted in the death of Sean Monterrosa on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Vallejo, Calif.
Body camera footage shows the officer involved shooting that resulted in the death of Sean Monterrosa on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Vallejo, Calif. Photo: Vallejo Police Department

The officer’s name was not released Wednesday after the city’s police union filed for and received a temporary restraining order.

Williams has previously said the officer believed he saw the butt of a handgun poking out near Monterrosa’s waist and opened fire “due to this perceived threat.”

An investigation later revealed Monterrosa had a 15-inch hammer tucked into the pocket of a sweatshirt.

Roughly 100 friends and supporters of the Monterrosa family stood quietly Wednesday afternoon outside Vallejo City Hall, where Michelle and Ashley Monterrosa, the young man’s sisters, exited with their attorneys, John Burris and Melissa Nold. The sisters wiped away tears, and flowers and candles were set up on the steps. People wore shirts that said “Justice for Sean Monterrosa” and held signs that read “defund the police.”

ACLU, SF Board of Supes request release of footage in Monterrosa shooting

Vallejo Times-Herald, by John Glidden, July 6, 2020 
Jorge and Linda Moreno, former roommates of Sean Monterrosa, protest in front of City Hall prior to a June 5 march. Monterrosa was killed by a Vallejo police officer on June 2. (Chris Riley – Times-Herald file photo)

Pressure continues to mount from outside Vallejo to release body camera footage from the fatal officer-involved shooting of Sean Monterrosa in front of a Vallejo Walgreens during the early morning hours of June 2.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have taken the rare action of asking Vallejo leaders to release the body camera footage immediately, instead of delaying release of the footage up to 45 calendar days — as allowed by state law.

“For years, police accountability and civil rights activist in Vallejo have run up against a police department that has disproportionately targeted people of color, has been allowed to brutalize Black and Latino residents, and has rarely been held accountable for its actions,” part of the supervisors’ June 16 resolution reads.

In its five-page letter from June 30, the ACLU criticizes the city for failing to release the body camera footage, and video from a private drone sought through the California Public Records Act by the nonprofit public interest newsroom Open Vallejo.

“Not only is the city required to release these records pursuant to the PRA, the city’s delay erodes what little public trust remains with a community that has seen far too many killed and brutally assaulted by the police,” the letter states.

Monterrosa, 22, of San Francisco was shot and killed outside the Walgreens on Redwood Street. Law enforcement sources say the police officer is Jarrett Tonn. He fired five times through a car windshield, hitting Monterrosa once. City and police officials have yet to officially confirm Tonn as the shooter.

“Sean Monterrosa was my constituent and a beloved member of the Bernal Heights and Mission District neighborhoods that I represent,” said San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who authored the resolution, in a statement to the Times-Herald on Monday. “He was a passionate advocate for social justice, and his death by Vallejo police has left a painful void in our community. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the resolution I authored urging the release of body camera footage from the officers involved in Sean’s death in order to bring greater transparency to this case and help Sean’s family obtain the justice they deserve.”

Monterrosa’s sister, Ashley Monterrosa, told the Times-Herald over the weekend that the family was offered the chance recently to watch the body camera footage, but only without a lawyer. The family declined.

Ashley Monterrosa said the family is hoping to watch the footage some time this week with their lawyer. She said a lawsuit would likely be followed afterward. The Monterrosa family is being represented by civil rights attorney John Burris.

Vallejo Police Dept bans carotid control hold, “focuses on assessment and reform”

Vallejo police chief bans officers from using carotid hold

Vallejo Times-Herald, by John Glidden, June 18, 2020 

Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams issued a special order banning his officers from using a controversial restraint as the department begins to flesh out its use of force and de-escalation police, the department announced Thursday.

Officers can no longer apply a carotid control hold, also known as a vascular neck constraint, while attempting to subdue aggressive or resistant individuals.

“This immediate ban of the carotid control hold is the right thing to do as our department focuses on assessment and reform,” said Williams in a statement released by the department on Thursday. “I also think it’s important for the Vallejo community to know that the carotid control hold is not a stranglehold or a chokehold; those types of holds were never authorized by VPD and do not reflect our values as a department.”

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan took to social media after the news release was issued to register his approval with the decision, saying if the hold isn’t “done correctly (it) could injure a person.”

“This restraint has no place in policing,” he said.

Vallejo’s ban comes two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom told the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to stop teaching the restraint as the hold blocks the flow of blood to the brain.

“We train techniques on strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk,” Newsom said. “That has no place any longer in 21st-century practices and policing.”

The hold requires an officer to place his/her arm on the sides of the person’s neck. As the officer begins to apply pressure, blood flow is blocked in the carotid arteries, causing the person to lose consciousness. Applied too long, the hold can cause serious injury or death.

Williams’ announcement follows the unveiling of a new proposed implementation plan based off a 70-page report by the OIR Group which analyzed the operations, culture and internal review of the department. The consultant made 45 recommendations which focus on three major areas: protecting the community, build trust and communication, and 21st century policing.

Retained last summer, OIR Group received $40,000 to review the department’s officer training, hiring, promotional processes, transparency, community engagement, resource assessment, and internal review of deadly force incidents.