VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council on Tuesday approved a $5 million settlement with the family of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old man who was shot and killed by six Vallejo police officers in 2019 after he was found unresponsive in a Taco Bell drive-thru, ending a nearly five-year legal battle over one of the most controversial incidents involving Vallejo police.
The shooting was a catalyst that brought scrutiny on the practices of the Vallejo Police Department. It made national headlines and led to the police department’s practice of bending the tips of their badges to mark shootings coming to light. The settlement is just short of the largest in the city’s history, below the $5.7 million paid to the family of Ronell Foster after he was shot by a Vallejo police officer in 2018.
But the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019, initially had sought to place the Vallejo Police Department under the oversight of a federal judge to implement long-term reforms, similar to a negotiated settlement agreement that has governed the Oakland Police Department for decades. Ultimately, the settlement in the McCoy case did not include any reforms.
Other attempts to reform the department have emerged in the years after the lawsuit was filed. Most notably, the state Department of Justice filed its own stipulated judgment in state court in October to compel the department to complete a slate of reforms. However, it remains unclear whether that agreement will proceed, as the judge assigned to the case has expressed reluctance to sign it.
Melissa Nold, an attorney for the McCoy family, said in a statement to the Vallejo Sun that she did not believe that the settlement represented justice. “Money is not justice when someone has been murdered,” Nold said. “We will continue to work with state and federal agencies to ensure that Willie McCoy’s killers are brought to REAL justice and that the Vallejo Police badge bending ritual is criminally investigated.”
On Feb. 9, 2019, Vallejo police were called to the Taco Bell 974 Admiral Callaghan Lane, where McCoy’s car was parked in the drive-thru, with McCoy unresponsive in the driver’s seat, allegedly with a gun on his lap. Within minutes, six officers – Anthony Cano, Jordon Patzer, Colin Eaton, Bryan Glick, Mark Thompson, and Ryan McMahon – fired 55 shots into McCoy’s car, killing him.
News coverage following the shooting noted that Vallejo police had an abnormally high rate of police shootings. The McCoy family’s federal civil rights lawsuit cited numerous past allegations of civil rights violations and alleged that the department had a pattern and practice of violating people’s rights.
Meanwhile, even some within the department questioned the officers’ decision making that day.
Shortly after the shooting, the department became aware that McMahon – the last officer to arrive who had also shot Foster the previous year – allegedly added a plate to his gun with the words “Veritas” and “Aequitas,” meaning “truth and justice,” a reference to the 1999 film Boondock Saints where two brothers engage in vigilante justice.
McMahon was placed on leave and turned in his badge to former police Capt. John Whitney, who later said in a lawsuit that he saw two bent tips on McMahon’s badge, which McMahon said were for his two shootings.
McMahon denied in filings in his own lawsuit that he ever bent his badge and accused Whitney of defamation. But a former assistant police chief acknowledged that McMahon bent his badge in an email and court records indicate that an outside investigation commissioned by the city also corroborated that McMahon’s badge was bent. The city has refused to release the report.
A use of force expert hired by the city and a special prosecutor appointed by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office both found that the officers’ use of force in the McCoy shooting was reasonable. But McMahon was fired the following year because he fired from behind Glick, placing his life in danger. McMahon recently completed arbitration proceedings in an attempt to get his job back and is awaiting a final decision by the arbitrator.
In the months following the McCoy shooting, former Vallejo police Chief Andrew Bidou, who Whitney later testified had known about the badge bending practice for years, left the department. The city hired its first Black police chief, Shawny Williams, to replace Bidou later that year and the Justice Department announced its reform program in June 2020.
But Williams suddenly left the department in November 2022 after clashing with the Vallejo Police Officers Association. When the three-year term of the contract with the Justice Department ended in June, more than half of the required reforms were still incomplete. Later that month, a Vallejo police officer shot someone for the first time in three years amid an escalation in use of force by officers.
The Justice Department sought court oversight of the department in October, but in his first order in the case Solano County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gizzi wrote that he may not sign it. In response, the Justice Department moved for Gizzi to recuse himself because he shared a social media post critical of the stipulated judgment on LinkedIn. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from family attorney Melissa Nold.
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2024-01-10 02:07:11 , The Vallejo Sun