VALLEJO, Calif. – The Vallejo City Council has reached a $5 million settlement with the family of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old man who was fatally shot by six Vallejo police officers in 2019. The incident occurred when McCoy was found unresponsive in a Taco Bell drive-thru. This settlement brings an end to a prolonged legal battle over one of the most controversial cases involving the Vallejo police.
The shooting of Willie McCoy attracted national attention and shed light on the practices of the Vallejo Police Department. As a result, the department’s practice of bending the tips of their badges to mark shootings came to light. Although this settlement is just short of Vallejo’s largest in history, which was a $5.7 million payout to the family of Ronell Foster following his shooting by a Vallejo police officer in 2018, it does not include any long-term reforms.
Initially, the lawsuit filed by McCoy’s family in 2019 sought to place the Vallejo Police Department under the oversight of a federal judge for implementing necessary reforms. However, the settlement does not include such oversight. Other efforts to reform the police department have emerged since the lawsuit’s filing. For instance, the state Department of Justice filed its own stipulated judgment in state court in October, mandating the completion of multiple reforms. Nevertheless, the future of this agreement remains uncertain as the assigned judge has expressed reluctance to sign it.
On February 9, 2019, Vallejo police responded to a call at a Taco Bell where McCoy’s car was parked in the drive-thru with him unresponsive in the driver’s seat, allegedly with a gun on his lap. Within minutes, the six officers, Anthony Cano, Jordon Patzer, Colin Eaton, Bryan Glick, Mark Thompson, and Ryan McMahon, fired 55 shots into McCoy’s car, resulting in his death.
News coverage following the shooting highlighted the abnormally high rate of police shootings by Vallejo police. McCoy’s family’s federal civil rights lawsuit cited multiple past allegations of rights violations and claimed that the department had a pattern of violating people’s rights. Even some within the department questioned the officers’ decision-making on that fateful day.
Shortly after the shooting, it was discovered that Officer McMahon, who fired the fatal shots, had added a plate to his gun inscribed with the words “Veritas” and “Aequitas,” meaning “truth and justice.” McMahon was placed on leave, and it later came to light that he had a bent tip on his badge, indicating involvement in a previous shooting. McMahon denies bending his badge and has accused former police Captain John Whitney of defamation, who confirmed the badge bending in his testimony.
A use of force expert hired by the city and a special prosecutor appointed by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office determined that the officers’ use of force in McCoy’s shooting was reasonable. However, McMahon was fired the following year for firing from behind Officer Glick, endangering his life. Currently, McMahon is awaiting the arbitrator’s final decision after recently completing arbitration proceedings with hopes of regaining his job.
The shooting of Willie McCoy prompted changes within the Vallejo Police Department, including the departure of former Police Chief Andrew Bidou, who allegedly knew about the badge bending practice for years, and the hiring of the department’s first Black police chief, Shawny Williams. However, Williams also left the department after facing conflict with the Vallejo Police Officers Association. Additionally, when the three-year reform program by the Justice Department concluded in June, over half of the required reforms were still incomplete. The Justice Department sought court oversight, but the assigned judge has expressed hesitancy to sign off on it.
In summary, the Vallejo City Council has approved a $5 million settlement with the family of Willie McCoy, bringing an end to the legal battle surrounding his shooting by police officers. The settlement does not include any long-term reforms, despite initial attempts to place the Vallejo Police Department under federal oversight. The case sparked widespread scrutiny of police practices and raised questions about the high rate of police shootings in Vallejo. The actions of Officer McMahon, including the addition of a plate to his gun and the alleged bending of his badge, have been sources of controversy. While a use of force expert and a special prosecutor deemed the officers’ actions reasonable, McMahon was ultimately fired for endangering the life of another officer. The future of reform efforts within the Vallejo Police Department remains uncertain.