‘It’s Not Real Justice’: Vallejo Officer Fired, But Not For Deadly Force

Body camera footage from the 2019 shooting of Willie McCoy in Vallejo, Calif. (Vallejo Police Department)

Officials with the Vallejo Police Department announced Thursday the termination of an officer known locally as one of the 'Fatal 14' — a group of officers involved in more than one fatal police shooting. But lawyers and family members of those shot and killed by Vallejo Police aren't celebrating.

Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams issued a notice of termination to Officer Ryan McMahon on September 30, but not for his role in the deaths of both Ronell Foster and Willie McCoy in less than a year's time.

According to a press release Thursday, McMahon was fired following an Internal Affairs investigation that found he had engaged in "unsafe conduct and neglect for basic fire safety" that put his colleagues at risk during the February 2019 shooting death of Willie McCoy.

“Any conduct outside the level of professionalism this City deserves will not be tolerated by the Vallejo Police Department,” Williams said in a press release. “I understand we have a long way to go in rebuilding trust among the residents of Vallejo and I will continue to take the necessary steps to better serve this community."

The press release makes no mention of the death of Ronell Foster, who was killed after McMahon attempted to stop him for riding his bike without a light in 2018, and Willie McCoy, who was shot 55 times by six Vallejo Police officers in 2019.

"To me, it’s a sham," said Attorney John Burris, who represented the Foster family in a lawsuit against the city of Vallejo. Burris said this outcome sends the wrong message to officers who engage in deadly force, "it's not real justice in terms of the conduct he engaged in."

Documents released in August showed Williams' main concern was how McMahon's conduct put other officers on the scene at risk during the McCoy shooting in 2019.

According to his Notice of Intent to Discipline, McMahon was found to have violated three Vallejo Police Department policies, including: failure to observe or violating department safety standards or safe working practices, unsafe firearm or other dangerous weapon handling and unsatisfactory work performance.

"Your conduct endangered fellow officers and violated safety norms of firearms handling when you chose to run with your weapon out and extended, with Officer [Bryan] Glick in front of you in your cone of fire," the notice stated.

Following the news of McMahon's termination, Kori McCoy, Willie McCoy's older brother, pointed to reporting from the independent news organization Open Vallejo of a tradition among Vallejo Police officers of bending the tips of their star-shaped badges to mark fatal police killings — a tradition that Chief Williams opened an official inquiry into in July.

McMahon arrived on scene of the McCoy shooting and fired just one of 55 total shots between six officers that night.

"He didn't get fired for murdering Ronell or Willie," said McCoy. "He was fired for a procedural issue as far as how he handled himself running from behind two officers to get one shot off on my brother."

For that one shot, McMahon would collect the second bend on his badge, according to reporting from Open Vallejo.

"What people need to understand [is] that's all about the badge bending that's been going on  in Vallejo," McCoy said. "I just want to see officers prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when they break and violate the law."

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In September, the city of Vallejo reached a $5.7 million settlement with the family of Ronell Foster, who was shot in the back of the head. The settlement was the latest multimillion dollar payment the city of Vallejo made to a family impacted by police violence in recent years. 

In a statement, the city said the settlement agreement is not an admission of liability. The city says it will pay $500,000 of the claim from government funds, the rest will come from insurance.

"I think it is sickening and unforgivable that McMahon was terminated for technical issues, as opposed to being terminated for executing Mr. Foster and going on to participate in the execution of Willie McCoy," said Melissa Nold, an attorney representing McCoy's family in a lawsuit against the city and its police department. "Unfortunately, this is just further evidence of the City's ongoing failure to supervise and properly discipline its dangerous employees."