In Vijo, California, a former police captain is alleging a secret ritual that led to an independent investigation into the city’s stretched police force: he says some officers involved in the deadly shootings since 2000 have twisted the tips of the star-shaped badges to mark each time. they killed someone in the line of duty.
Vallejo police captain John Whitney, a 19-year veteran of the department and a former SWAT commander who was fired last August, described the first tradition. alleged in an interview published this week by Open Vallejo.
According to the unaffiliated news outlet, officers involved in the fatal shootings marked those incidents with a barbecue in the courtyard and started in a “secret click” that included twisting one of the tips of the seven-point sterling silver badge. The outlet said it had spoken to more than 20 government officials present and that they had examined the records and hundreds of photos taken before and after the deadly shootings. Two officials named in the report denied having badges bent, with one telling Open Vallejo that it was a “lie.”;
Vallejo, a Bay Area community of 122,000 people, has been on the lookout for its high number of fatal police shootings in recent years – 18 since 2010 – compared to other cities of California. Last month, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the Justice Department will conduct an “expansive review” of the Vallejo Police Department following lawsuits alleging excessive force and residents’ demands for external investigation into the actions of officials.
Police Chief Shawny Williams, who became the first African-American to head the department in November following the retirement of former chief Andrew Bidou, said on Friday that he is calling for an outside investigation to begin early next week and can take several months. He said the formal investigation follows his initial inquiry into the allegations.
“We received statements from two different sources in the Vallejo Police Department that the badge occurred,” Williams said in a statement. “As a result of these disturbing and disturbing allegations, I have requested an independent investigation from outside to be completed by a third party.”
He did not immediately say who would lead the investigation.
According to the Vallejo Open, of the 51 current and former Vallejo officers who have been involved in the deadly shootings since 2000, at least 14 of their badges have been twisted from behind by a colleague as part of an “exclusive habit” that even some officers involved in the deadly shooters never said they existed.
After being fired, Whitney filed an amended retaliation claim against the city in March but did not mention the badge-bending tradition. Whitney commented through her attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, that she said she plans to file a lawsuit over the illegal termination next week that will include what she knew, among other allegations, and described him as a whistleblower.
“We are grateful that Chief Williams condemned this deeply disturbing practice, but we are skeptical because the evidence could have been destroyed since then, and that it gives the officers involved a chance to dismiss the practice with impunity,” she said. .
Wilkinson said her client was trying to “speak out against the negative culture” in the department, including about badges, and as a result was forced.
Police captains have a “voluntary” job with the department, she said, but are preparing a lawsuit because Whitney believes he was not given due process and his “whistleblowing” activities played a role in his forced departure.
“They certainly started to despise him because he stood up for what he was right,” Wilkinson said.
The city did not respond to Whitney’s retaliatory request, which she said expressed her “professional views on a variety of misconduct issues with the Police Department.” Whitney said his dismissal was related to an investigation into leaked information and he was accused of taking care of misinformation. Wilkinson said he was cleared in the case of the leak, but Whitney was still shot and had said it related to the deletion of personal data, including family photos, from his work phone.
When Whitney left the department, Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan wrote a letter of recommendation that was also attached to Whitney’s request. “Frankly, I believe that because John talked about a negative culture in the Vallejo Police Department, his reputation was tarnished by those who didn’t want any‘ dirty laundry ’aired,” the letter says.
A spokesman for the city on Thursday said Sampayan was not available for comments on what Whitney described in his retaliation claim or badge-bending tradition.
Efforts to reach Bidou, the retired police chief, by telephone on Thursday and Friday were not immediately successful, and an email to the Vallejo Police Officers Association did not return immediately on Friday. Its current employer, Pacific Gas & Electric, refused to make Bidou available, but said in a statement that the company “is aware of these serious allegations, which do not reflect the values of our company nor the expectations of our employees. “
In a statement, City Manager Greg Nyhoff said last year Sampayan had warned him of the “disturbing allegations,” which led him to ask Bidou about the badge’s bending request. The same chief told Nyhoff that he had previously investigated the claim and that “it had not been substantiated,” Nyhoff said.
“The City takes any credible request or information regarding potential misconduct seriously,” Nyhoff added. “Chief Williams is currently pursuing past allegations by taking all investigative measures, and he will take the appropriate and necessary actions based on the information provided.”
Williams said earlier this week that he would conduct an inquiry to “help me understand the department’s culture more broadly and take corrective action.”
“I want our community to know that misconduct will never be tolerated under my administration,” he added.
Wilkinson said Whitney found out about the bending of the badges in April 2019, two months after the fatal shooting of rapper Willie McCoy, 20. McCoy was asleep in his car at a fast-food drive-thru restaurant. and restaurant workers said they couldn’t get him up. Police said they discovered his car was locked and he was driving, and saw a gun on his lap. While McCoy was unresponsive, officers at the scene devised a plan to block his car inside the drive-thru to prevent any erratic movement if it was turned on. Eventually, they watch McCoy move, according to the bodycam incident video.
As McCoy aroused, six of the officers opened fire with 55 rounds, saying they feared he was seizing for the weapon.
An investigation into the officers’ behavior during the shooting remains open.
Once Whitney found out about the bending of the badge, he “wanted an investigation done at the time and also sought to have the very disturbing practice ended and condemned,” Wilkinson said.
Whitney, because of his high position, had ordered supervisors at the end of one meeting to inspect the badges and collect the crooked ones from their subordinates; 10 were recovered, Wilkinson said.
But according to Whitney, Bidou had the badges returned to officers, whose responsibility would be to replace or repair them, Wilkinson said.
“What happened to those badges is still unknown to my client,” she said, adding that due to the elapsed time, any evidence of the alleged custom of bending the badge has now not gone away.
Lt. Vallejo police Michael Nichelini, president of the Vallejo Association of Police Officers, called the allegation a “ridiculous concept” and said any appearance that the badges were distorted on purpose is false because they “come this way.”
“All of these recent attacks on Vallejo police officers are fabricated lies pushed to fit a non-existent narrative,” he said in a statement.
Nichelini has been on leave since July 15 in connection with the destruction of a windshield of a police vehicle that the department failed to preserve and is seen as evidence in a shooting of a deadly officer involved in June of ’22 years in June. Becerra’s office announced this month that it will open an investigation into the destruction of evidence.
His office, however, referred a comment on allegations of badge bending practice to Vallejo city officials.
Sampayan, who retired from the Vallejo Police Department as a sergeant in 2006, said he recalled an accident during his career when an officer had a corner of his badge bent, but did not know what it represented. He told the Vallejo Times-Herald that after the practice was brought to the attention of officials more than a year ago, “changes have been made.”
“I’m not very happy with what he represented,” he said. “To brag and celebrate that you have someone killed is absolutely nasty. There’s no place for that kind of show.”
Kori McCoy, Willie McCoy’s older brother, said he was not shocked by the allegations and confirming that the police department should be “investigated from top to bottom.”
“We’ve been saying since Day One that Willie was executed,” McCoy said.