Vallejo police chief recommended firing officer involved in Willie McCoy shooting, documents reveal

Abené Clayton in Oakland
·4-min read

Vallejo police have released new documents and video footage related to the killing of Willie McCoy, who was fatally shot by police in 2019 after falling asleep in his car outside a Taco Bell.

The documents reveal that the Vallejo police chief in March recommended the firing of the officer at the center of an internal investigation into McCoy’s death. That officer was kept on the force after shooting and killing another man, Ronell Foster, in 2018. The release also includes additional body camera footage of McCoy’s killing.

Vallejo, a small city north of San Francisco, has faced national scrutiny in the wake of several high-profile police killings and allegations of officer misconduct. The city has one of the highest rates of police killings in the state.

On Thursday, the family of Sean Monterrosa, an unarmed 22-year-old who was shot and killed by Vallejo police in a Walgreens parking lot in June, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

Related: 19 dead in a decade: the small American city where violent police thrive

The newly released documentation in the McCoy case includes a March 2020 memo following an internal investigation. In the memo Shawny Williams, the Vallejo police chief, said that the way officer Ryan McMahon used his firearm put other officers on the scene at risk and violated department policy.

McCoy was killed on the night of 9 February 2019 when police responded to a welfare check called in by a Taco Bell employee. About 11 minutes later police found McCoy asleep in the driver’s seat of his car.

Body cam footage released in 2019 after the shooting revealed McCoy did not appear to have fully woken up when officers began firing. The new 30 minute video released Thursday is longer than the previously released footage, and contains body camera video from all six officers involved in the shooting. The footage also shows that police fired 55 rounds – 38 of which hit McCoy – within less than four seconds as McCoy began to stir.

Shawny Williams, the Vallejo police chief, in March recommended the firing of the officer at the center of an internal investigation into Willie McCoy’s death.
Shawny Williams, the Vallejo police chief, in March recommended the firing of the officer at the center of an internal investigation into Willie McCoy’s death. Photograph: Chris Riley/AP

The renewed scrutiny on Vallejo comes amid local and national upheaval over racialized police violence following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans. The department has also come under fire after an investigation by Open Vallejo, a local non-profit news site, alleged that several officers bent the tips of their badges to commemorate their involvement in on-duty fatal shootings. Since the revelation Vallejo police have initiated an independent probe into the claims.

“These revelations have not been surprising. I think the department is rotten to the core,” said John Burris, a longtime civil rights attorney. “The union runs that department, officers are not held accountable and the command staff is just as bad.”

Burris’ office filed a wrongful death lawsuit in McCoy’s case that is still ongoing, and was behind the suit filed on behalf of Monterrosa’s family on Thursday. The federal lawsuit alleges the Vallejo police officer who shot Monterrosa, Jarrett Tonn, was “trigger-happy”. The officer was also involved in three other shootings prior to Monterrosa within the past five years

“This boy should not have been killed, and it’s my job to address it,” Burris said of the basis of the lawsuit.

In a statement, spokesperson Brittany Jackson said the Vallejo police department is releasing the new materials in accordance with SB 1421, a 2019 law that gives the public access to police misconduct records. Jackson added that the department respects the Monterrosa family’s decision to pursue litigation and hopes that “the process will guide the family and our community toward healing”.

At a press conference on Thursday, Monterrosa’s sister, Michelle Monterrosa, called for a bill that would allow victims of police violence to receive financial support. “They shot my brother without hesitation. He was a hardworking provider and we depended on each other to get by,” she said.

Speaking of the toll his death had taken on the Monterrosa family, she said: “No matter what the police report says: there were five victims when my brother was murdered.”