Category Archives: Vallejo Police

Vallejo Police Officers Association under investigation for threats sent to SF Chronicle reporter

Vallejo PD: Threatening email sent to reporter under investigation
(Brett Jordan / Getty Images)

NewsBreak Peninsula Digest, December 9, 2020

(VALLEJO, Calif.) The Vallejo Police Department is currently investigating a threatening email that was allegedly sent to a reporter by the police union, KTVU2 reports.

In response to the allegation, Police Chief Shawny Williams issued a statement saying, “We do not condone any form of disrespect, discourteous behavior or act of intimidation toward our media partners.”

The email was sent Otis Taylor Jr., a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle by the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association saying, “2021 will be a little bit better not having your biased and un-informed articles printed in the newspaper.”

The email also stated, “We will warn our Georgia colleagues of your impending arrival.”

Taylor is stepping down from the Chronicle and moving to Georgia. Taylor had reported on the Vallejo PD while working for the Chronicle.

Vallejo, Benicia police ready in case of post-election mayhem

Police chief: ‘We hope for peace and civility’

Vallejo Times Herald, By Richard Freedman, October 29, 2020
Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams (Courtesy photo)

The City of Vallejo, in collaboration with the Vallejo police and fire departments, will open their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as a precautionary measure starting Monday.

This action is being taken in preparation for potential civil unrest directly associated with the Nov. 3 election, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

“While there is no immediate threat of unrest, nor do we have reason to believe there will be a threat in the City of Vallejo or surrounding areas, the City must be prepared to respond to any emergency appropriately. The type of emergency will determine the appropriate response to any crisis,” said communications and public information  Christina Lee in the statement.

The Vallejo Fire Department will increase its staff by an extra battalion chief and an additional fire engine to assist with increased call volume if necessary during the EOC activation. The police department will continue to have its mobile field force (MFF) on standby, prepared to mobilize in the event of social or civil unrest to help calm and disperse crowds, Lee said.

Though “the City recognizes and respects our citizens’ First Amendment Rights to free speech … we ask that anyone who intends to exercise these rights remain mindful that COVID-19 remains a threat, especially as we are entering the cold and flu season, which could place those with a compromised immune system at an increased risk for infection,” Lee said, urging citizens to “continue to wear a mask, especially when gathering where social distancing can be difficult.”

Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams issued a statement Thursday afternoon, stating that “while we hope for peace and civility after the elections; hope is not a strategy, and failure to prepare is preparing to fail. We are planning to have a more visible uniformed presence throughout the elections and the following days.  With our Emergency Operations Center activated, we will work collaboratively with all of our city departments, council members, and county partners to protect and serve our Vallejo community.”

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said it would be irresponsible to not be ready.

“We want to be prepared just in case there’s going to be civil unrest,” he said late Wednesday. “The extreme right and the extreme left have been saying on social media that they are going to protest the election. We, as a city, need to be prepared for that. We have been the victims of looting and civil unrest in the past and we need to be ready just in case something like that should occur.”

Sampayan said he “absolutely” expects Vallejo agencies to be ready if they are called as mutual aid to surrounding communities.

“I’m confident our police and fire are well prepared for whatever occurs after the election,” Sampayan said.

In Benicia, “Like everyone else, we are watching this election and the days following it closely,” said Irma Widjojo, public information officer for the Benicia Police Dept.

“While we don’t anticipate any issues in our community, we are prepared to have extra staffing available if needed. We are also working cooperatively with other area agencies for any mutual call needs,” Widjojo said.

There is “no special preparations at this time” by the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, spokesman Henry Wofford said. “Everything is normal.”

Vallejo settlement in 2018 police shooting of Ronell Foster: $5.7 million

Family of man killed by Vallejo police to receive $5.7 million

San Francisco Chronicle, by Nora Mishanec, September 5, 2020
Ronell Foster (right), shown with his two chldren, was shot to death by a Vallejo police officer in February 2018.
Ronell Foster (right), shown with his two chldren, was shot to death by a Vallejo police officer in February 2018. Photo: SFChronicle, courtesy Foster family

Vallejo officials have agreed to pay $5.7 million to the family of Ronell Foster, who was shot and killed by a Vallejo police officer in February 2018.

The officer, Ryan McMahon, was cleared of wrongdoing in January by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office, which declared McMahon’s deadly use of force justified after an investigation that included body camera footage.

But Foster’s family brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against McMahon and the city.

Vallejo officials announced the settlement Friday. The city itself will pay the Foster family only $500,000. The rest will be paid by the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, a municipal insurance provider.

The Foster family is “happy the truth has finally come out,” Adanté Pointer, a lawyer for the family, said Friday.

“Ronell did not deserve to die,” Pointer said. “True justice would be to see Officer McMahon walking into court as a criminal defendant.

“What the family found most disturbing are the lies the city put out to justify his death when they knew the whole time Ronell’s death was not justified and the officer’s conduct flat-out wrong.”

Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams indicated his intent to fire McMahon in March, based in part on his conduct during another fatal shooting, that of 21-year old Willie McCoy. The termination is pending, a spokeswoman for the city said.

In a March letter to McMahon that was made public, Williams said McMahon endangered the lives of other police officers, neglected basic firearm safety and demonstrated “unsatisfactory work performance including, but not limited to, failure, incompetence,” in connection with the McCoy incident.

McMahon was temporarily placed on paid administrative leave following the fatal shooting of Foster, but was later cleared to return to duty. One year later, he was one of six officers who shot and killed McCoy, who was asleep in a car in a Taco Bell drive-through lane.

Vallejo police spokeswoman Brittany Jackson declined to provide details about McMahon’s leave, calling it a “pending personnel matter.” McMahon was paid $219,433 in salary and benefits in 2018, the year he shot Foster, according to public records.

Foster, 33, was riding a bike in downtown Vallejo without a headlamp the evening of Feb. 13, 2018, when he was spotted and pursued by McMahon, who later told investigators that he stopped Foster in order to “educate the public on the dangers that this person was creating for himself and the traffic on Sonoma Boulevard.”

After a brief pursuit, McMahon said, Foster grabbed his metal flashlight and tried to strike him during a physical altercation, prompting McMahon to open fire. Foster died at the scene after being shot in the back of the head.

Police later said Mc­Mahon had no choice but to use deadly force after Foster threatened him with the metal flashlight. Dark, grainy body camera footage released by the Vallejo Police Department at the time did not clearly show whether Foster presented the flashlight in the “threatening manner” that police described in statements following the shooting.

Foster’s family disputed the Police Department’s account of the encounter.

Vallejo police officers may go unpunished for bending badges

Vallejo cops accused of bending badges to mark kills may be bulletproof from consequences

San Francisco Chronicle, by Rachel Swan & Demian Bulwa, Aug. 9, 2020
Police investigate a shooting involving a Vallejo officer in 2016. Now the police chief is opening an “official inquiry” into a report that officers have bent their badges to mark on-duty killings. Chris Preovolos / Hearst Newspapers 2016

Vallejo police officers accused of bending their badges to commemorate their killings may be immune from consequences because the city waited too long to investigate, according to legal experts and the attorney for the fired ex-captain who blew the whistle on the purported practice.

Police Chief Shawny Williams said last week that his department is opening an “official inquiry” into allegations by a former police captain that some officers bent the tips of their seven-point stars, which he said would amount to misconduct. “I’m not going to tolerate something like that,” Williams said.

But the state’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights sets a one-year deadline for taking disciplinary action against officers after police officials learn of alleged misconduct. That sets up a potential legal fight in Vallejo if badge-bending officers are identified.

The ex-captain, John Whitney, who was second-in-command in the Vallejo force, said through his attorney that he learned of the badge-bending ritual in April 2019, informed then-Chief Andrew Bidou that month and unsuccessfully sought an investigation. Whitney was fired four months later.

His attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, said that before his ouster he ordered supervisors 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.

“We’re skeptical that any investigation of badge-bending will be effective in holding any officer accountable, both because they destroyed the evidence of the misconduct, by returning the badges to the officers, and because the statute of limitations has expired,” Wilkinson said.

She said then-Chief Bidou and Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff “were aware of the badge-bending in April 2019 but did nothing. The statute of limitations runs from the date of discovery. Anyone involved can now deny it with impunity.”

Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell told The Chronicle on July 28 that the city is aware of previous complaints about badge-bending.

“In conferring this evening with the City Manager,” Cardwell wrote, “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 Bidou, who indicated it had been previously investigated and such claims had not been substantiated.”

Attempts to reach Bidou and Nyhoff were unsuccessful Friday. Williams said the investigation would go on regardless of these concerns.

“There is no statute of limitations on moral obligations,” he said. “The ethical standards of conduct and the moral imperative to honor dignity and life exceeds legal statutes of limitations. As chief of police, it is my responsibility to uncover the truth, increase trust through accountability and take corrective actions when warranted.”

A badge-bending investigation could be important for reasons besides discipline, if it led to changes in department policies or mended public distrust. It could also be driven by a desire to improve training, said San Francisco union attorney Gregg Adam, who has represented police officers in disciplinary proceedings and has no involvement with the Vallejo case.

Still, Adam agreed with Wilkinson’s analysis, saying she “is 100% correct.”

“The chief is quoting from the gospel, not the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights,” Adam said.

California legislators enacted the one-year deadline to force police agencies to promptly address misconduct.

The statute carries several exceptions that can allow the one-year limit to be extended, including if an allegation is also the subject of a pending criminal investigation or lawsuit or if an investigation “involves more than one employee and requires a reasonable extension.” But authorities would need to show they were stymied by one of these factors.

Adam noted that the statute’s clock starts ticking when someone of sufficient authority “knew or should have known” about the alleged misconduct. And the person initiating the investigation doesn’t necessarily have to be a chief or city manager, Adam said. It could have been Whitney himself.

“If a captain knew about it, there’s a strong argument that that’s when the clock started,” he said.

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan insisted there is no statute of limitations on the issue, and that Vallejo is still pursuing it. Bidou’s successor, Chief Williams, who was sworn in in November, has hired an outside investigator to do a “deep dive analysis into this culture of the bent badge,” Sampayan said.

He recalled feeling alarmed and distressed when Whitney approached him with the allegations, some time after he’d purportedly gone to Bidou.

Sampayan is a former police officer who joined Vallejo’s force in 1985 and trained many in the rank and file — including Whitney, he said. He’s frustrated with the recent string of alleged misdeeds in the city.

“If indeed they come up with things, then people will be disciplined,” the mayor said. “My position is because these have all been people of color that have been shot, I’m curious if this is not a civil rights violation” that could initiate an investigation by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“This isn’t right to me — you don’t do this,” Sampayan said. “I’m appalled, I’m angered, and this is not what policing is all about.”

Whitney, who now works for another Bay Area police agency, is planning to sue Vallejo for wrongful termination after filing a legal claim seeking back pay, benefits, attorneys’ fees and $25,000. He says he was targeted for speaking out.

According to his 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 Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights came into play during a 2015 scandal in San Francisco, in which several police officers were accused of exchanging racist, sexist and homophobic text messages.

Sent in 2011 and 2012, the texts included “white power” jeers and slurs against African Americans. Department brass learned about the content when it surfaced during a corruption investigation in 2012, but did not disclose it to the public until March 2015. At that point, Chief Greg Suhr announced he would fire nine of the officers involved, and discipline others.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge halted the disciplinary proceedings that December, however, ruling that the one-year time limit had run out. A state appeals court overturned that decision in 2018. In the 3-0 decision, Justice Martin Jenkins argued that the messages “displayed unacceptable prejudice against members of the communities SFPD is sworn to protect.”

At least one Vallejo police officer involved in a pending disciplinary case is seeking to assert the one-year deadline, according to Solano County Superior Court records.

In a court filing last month on behalf of an unnamed officer, attorney Justin Buffington said he was seeking to prevent the city from “imposing discipline that is time-barred by the relevant statute of limitations.” A judge sealed details of the case, and Buffington did not respond to requests for comment.

Rachel Swan and Demian Bulwa are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.