Citing pattern of unconstitutional misconduct, Dept. of Justice announces stipulated judgment with Vallejo Police Department

Note from the NorCal ACLU – Solano Chapter, co-led by Kris Oyota Kelley and Vallejo mayoral candidate Andrea Sorce:

This morning, California Attorney General Rob Bonta held a press conference to announce a stipulated judgment (consent decree) with the Vallejo Police Department.

This agreement compels the City of Vallejo to implement long-overdue reforms and establishes an independent court-supervised monitor to ensure progress. It will not solve all of our police accountability issues, but it is a major step in the right direction for public safety in Vallejo.

We appreciate everyone who signed the petition and will keep you updated as our efforts progress. The ACLU NorCal Criminal Justice team will be investing significant resources in Vallejo going forward, and we will continue to push for the remainder of our petition demands.

[Note from BenIndy: There is still a lot of work to do – please sign the petition by clicking this link. ]

Attorney General Bonta Announces Stipulated Judgment with the Vallejo Police Department to Strengthen Accountability, Police Policies and Practices

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Sunday, October 15, 2023
[Images added by BenIndy]

VALLEJO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) has entered into a stipulated judgment with the city of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police Department (VPD) regarding reforms to VPD’s policies and practices. The stipulated judgment continues and expands upon the reform work started under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOJ and VPD. The agreement announced today resolves DOJ’s complaint alleging the VPD engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct. As part of the agreement, the city of Vallejo and VPD will undertake a comprehensive set of actions — to be led by an Oversight and Reform Evaluator — to promote public safety, reduce unlawful uses of force, eliminate racial and identity disparities, strengthen accountability systems, continue to increase support for officers, and protect the statutory and constitutional rights of the people of Vallejo.

“Maintaining trust between our law enforcement and the communities they serve is a foundational part of public safety,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today’s agreement with the city of Vallejo and its police department is another important step toward correcting injustices, building trust, and enhancing public safety for the people of Vallejo. We cannot afford to be complacent. The reforms laid out in the agreement are needed and necessary to continue healing the relationship between law enforcement and the community. It’s past time the people of Vallejo have a police department that listens and guarantees that their civil rights are protected. My office is committed to staying engaged, working collaboratively with VPD and the city and ensuring a fair, thorough, and transparent process.”

Heather Skinner, Ronell Foster’s mother-in-law, speaks about transparency during a press conference held by the office of lawyer John Burris in front of City Hall in Vallejo. Ronell Foster was killed by VPD in 2018. | Chris Riley / Times-Herald.

“The City of Vallejo is encouraged by the progress made to date by our staff and the Department.  We are optimistic about the continuation of our collaboration with the California Department of Justice and its team in the next phase of this important work,” said Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell. “We have made significant progress but there is still more to do.  The City Council is unanimously committed to seeing our efforts through to conclusion. It is the goal of the City of Vallejo and the VPD to continue to build on the progress made to date, to strengthen our relationships and advance our efforts to build trust with the community.”

“The Vallejo Police Department is committed to the completion of the remaining original recommendations and the additional recommendations under the new Agreement,” said Vallejo Police Department Interim Chief Jason Ta. “Improvements will be made to new and existing policies and procedures, which we are confident will increase accountability, efficiency, transparency, and community partnerships while at the same time improving relationships with the public and building mutual trust and respect from the community we serve.”

Protesters face off against police officers during a peaceful march over the killing of Sean Monterrosa, the 22-year-old San Francisco man, who was shot and killed by a Vallejo Police officer in 2020. | Chris Riley / Times-Herald.

“This Agreement is a continuation of the reform process Vallejo Police Department started three years ago,” said Vallejo City Manager Michael Malone. “City management and Vallejo Police Department are committed to engaging the community and dedicating the resources needed to ensure this ongoing effort is successful within the terms of our new Agreement.”

“During the past 3 years of the City’s collaborative agreement with the California Department of Justice we have fostered a positive working relationship that has produced significant results,” said Vallejo City Attorney Veronica Nebb. “Our work is not complete and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the California Department of Justice for the benefit of the community, the Department and the City.”

On June 5, 2020, DOJ, the city of Vallejo, and VPD entered into a MOU for VPD to institute a comprehensive modernized policing plan that included implementing 45 reform recommendations made by VPD’s expert consultants, as well as additional review from DOJ to expand upon and add any additional recommendations needed to modernize VPD’s current policies and practices, assist with implementation of the recommendations, and independently evaluate VPD’s compliance with the recommendations. The California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to enter into an MOU with VPD to reform its policing came in light of several high-profile uses of force, including a number of officer-involved shootings.

Alicia Saddler speaks outside City Hall at a rally addressing police shootings in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 28, 2019. Saddler’s brother, Angel Ramos, was killed by VPD in 2017. | Brock Stoneham / NBC News.

When the MOU expired on June 5, 2023, VPD had achieved substantial compliance with 20 out of the 45 agreed-upon recommendations. During the review of VPD’s systems and practices under the MOU, DOJ concluded that VPD failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law, based in part, because of defective or inadequate policies, practices, and procedures. DOJ is currently seeking a judgment with court oversight requiring VPD and the city of Vallejo to implement the remaining reforms, and to implement additional reforms addressing civilian complaints, bias-free policing, stops, searches, seizures and arrest, and ongoing oversight of these reforms.

The parties have agreed on a comprehensive five-year plan to address the numerous areas that need improvement and modernization to bring VPD into alignment with contemporary best practices and ensure constitutional policing. VPD will implement the remaining recommendations that have not been completed from the 45 Recommendations contained in the May 2020 report titled “Vallejo Police Department: Independent Assessment of Operations, Internal Review Systems and Agency Culture” (“2020 Recommendations”). Additionally, under the agreement VPD will implement additional recommendations, including to:

  • Address unreasonable force by holding officers and supervisors accountable for not identifying, adequately investigating, or addressing force that is unreasonable or otherwise contrary to VPD policy; and refer uses of force that may violate law or VPD’s use of force policy to their Professional Standards Division (internal affairs) for further investigation or review.
  • Enhance, promote, and strengthen partnerships within the community, to continue engaging constructively with the community to ensure collaborative problem-solving and bias-free policing, and to increase transparency and community confidence in VPD.
  • Utilize its Chief’s Advisory Board (CAB) and the Police Oversight and Accountability Commission (POAC), to continue to develop and amend significant policies that impact the community, including to its use of force policies, community-policing strategy and policies, bias-free policing policies, and civilian complaint policies.
  • Develop a policy that defines and limits the use of pretextual stops.
  • Enhance and revise training with respect to investigatory stops, reiterating that race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation are not to be used as a factor in establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause, except as part of actual and credible descriptions of a specific suspect.
  • Prohibit officers from conducting consent searches during consensual encounters. Officers may not conduct a consent search after detaining a subject unless an officer reasonably suspects that the subject has contraband or evidence related to that detention, and the consent must be documented on body camera footage or a signed consent form.
  • Ensure stops, searches, and seizures comply with the law, as part of an effective overall crime prevention strategy that does not contribute to counterproductive tension with the community.
  • Commit to providing bias-free services and enforcing laws in a way that is professional, nondiscriminatory, fair, and equitable.
  • Work with the Evaluator to develop a policy and protocol for responding to calls involving a person in mental health crisis or suffering from a mental health disability. The policy and protocol will include utilizing professional civilian staff, who are trained professionals in responding to mental health crises, to respond when appropriate and available.
  • Develop and implement policies, guidelines, and training to ensure all supervisors and managers:
    • Exercise appropriate supervisory oversight
    • Conduct objective and impartial investigations
    • Are held accountable for meeting agency standards and expectations
    • Engage with and listen to community feedback
    • Incorporate community feedback when able and appropriate
    • Develop and evaluate policing strategies and tactics reflective of contemporary best community policing practices
  • Conduct an ongoing audit of incidents where an officer points a firearm at a member of the public or brandishes a firearm in the presence of a member of the public to ensure that its officers are not drawing a firearm solely based on the mere existence of a potential risk (e.g., public contact, pedestrian/traffic stop).

A copy of the stipulated judgment is available here, and a copy of the complaint is available here.