‘How Can That be Real?’: Family of Black Man Shot 55 Times by Police Are Hoping to Bring Light to Alleged Corrupt Practice of ‘Badge-Bending’ by Vallejo, California Cops

“From the beginning, they cleared their officers before Willie was even buried,” Kori McCoy said of the Vallejo Police Department’s investigation of his brother’s death in 2019.

As Willie McCoy’s family marked the three-year anniversary of the slain 20-year-old’s death at the hands of police, they still are fighting for a sense of accountability and change within the police department’s patterns and practices.

“They ran up on a different family this time, and we’re not the only ones, but it’s bigger than the money: You can’t put a price on Willie’s life,” Kori McCoy said.

On Feb. 9, 2019, Willie McCoy, 20, was reportedly unresponsive while stopped in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell restaurant in Vallejo, California, about 30 miles north of San Francisco.

When restaurant employees reached out to the authorities to resolve the problem, several police responded to the call. What was intended to be a welfare check resulted in McCoy being awakened by several officers with their guns pointed at him.

Police bodycam video of the incident was released in March 2019.

Police claim McCoy had a gun on his lap, and when they ordered him to put up his hands he failed to follow those orders, resulting in the 20-year-old being hit by 55 bullets within three seconds. Willie McCoy’s family disputes the claim he had a gun.

“A lot of people have been so quick to take this police narrative, but my family has been saying this for three years, but the police have not been at any point been able to say, here is the gun,” Kori McCoy said, disputing the presence of the gun.

Nearly a year after the shooting, special prosecutor, Michael Ramos, chose not to file criminal charges against the officers in the shooting.

One of the officers involved in the shooting identified as Ryan McMahon, was fired, but he lost his job not for killing Willie McCoy, but for violating department policy by endangering one of the other officers because the other officer was in the line of fire of McMahon’s gun.

McCoy’s family filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit that’s still pending. The family’s attorney, Melissa Nold, says the lawsuit is not just about writing a blank check. They also want systemic and policy change within the Vallejo Police Department.

The Vallejo Police Department has been accused of corruption by McCoy’s family, and fueling those accusations is an alleged “badge-bending” scheme, where officers would go out of their way to hunt down and kill Black and brown people to score points internally within the department. McCoy’s family says Willie was a victim of this practice.

“There ended up being a report that one of the captains at the time when this happened discovered one of the officers started bending star tips of their badges after killing people and drinking and celebrating and they were essentially doing a ritual and we were all like that couldn’t be true, how can that be real,” Nold said of the badge-bending allegations.

In July 2020, the Vallejo Police Department launched a third-party investigation into the badge-bending allegations, and police Chief Shawny Williams called the allegations “very troubling and disturbing.”

In 2019, former police Capt. John Whitney blew the whistle on the badge-bending allegations, telling KGO, “Officers were bending their badges to commemorate when they were in an officer-involved shooting and each bend signified a shooting.” Whitney claims he was later fired from the department for speaking out.

Although the officers involved were not criminally charged, through their federal lawsuit, McCoy’s family is still holding out hope they can attain some semblance of justice.

“We embrace going to civil court, we’re not here to sit at the table and take a payout and go about our way, we’re here to shine light on the truth of what’s been happening for more than two decades of what’s been happening in Vallejo, California,” Kori McCoy said.

“We’re not just going to be limited to talking about the money until we get to the reform part. What we’re asking for is a police commission that’s completely independent of the department that doesn’t have law enforcement, that doesn’t have cops on it or cop family members or advocates, it will have people that are vulnerable to police,” Nold said of the intended outcome of the federal lawsuit.

Atlanta Black Star has not received a response on the comment it sought from the Vallejo Police Department and the city of Vallejo on the alleged badge-bending and the status of the investigation into it launched in 2020.

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