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Vallejo Detective With History of Misconduct Allegations Investigated for Racism

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Viewed through a glass wall with blue-painted badge insignia and logo for "Detective Division" of officer sitting at desk in front of computer.
A Vallejo Police Department detective works on his computer at the police headquarters in 2008.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In late October 2019, a group of Vallejo Police Department detectives were having lunch and talking about the preemptive PG&E power blackouts that plunged much of the North Bay into darkness. According to an internal investigation report obtained by KQED, Detective Sgt. Mathew Mustard told a racist joke.

Mustard, who is white, said the nearby town of Dixon was “as dark as Coley’s ass,” according to the investigation into the alleged incident.

To explain the joke, Mustard said that in the small town where his grandfather lived, there was only one Black man, who was known as Coley, according to the documents. Since Coley had dark skin, whenever people in the town talked about something dark, they said “as dark as Coley’s ass,” Mustard said.

Detective Cpl. Jason Scott, who is Black, felt the joke was directed at him, the report shows, and on Nov. 4, 2019, Scott filed a complaint against Mustard alleging the comment was part of a larger pattern of discrimination by his supervisor.

This is yet another scandal for a police department that has been besieged by lawsuits, allegations of misconduct, and unlawful shootings, even as its police chief continues to promise accountability and reform. The leaked report also shows that three prominent detectives weren’t truthful with investigators looking into Scott’s complaint, which could have far-reaching consequences for criminal cases built on their testimony.

Shawny Williams was sworn in as the city’s first Black police chief just eight days after Scott filed his internal complaint. Black officers make up 10% of Vallejo’s police force, according to the department’s website, while census figures show the city’s residents are about 20% African American.

Williams has said he is committed to regaining the public’s trust. The California Department of Justice is working with the city to implement reforms aimed at improving the department’s accountability and use-of-force policies. The state DOJ is also looking into the police killing of Sean Monterrosa, which led to a lawsuit, protests and allegations of evidence destruction. Williams also launched an outside investigation into allegations that officers participated in “badge bending” to mark their fatal on-duty shootings, a shocking revelation first reported by Open Vallejo, a nonprofit news site.

In an email, Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell said that he wasn’t made aware of the racial bias investigation and said it would have violated the police officers’ rights if he had been. McConnell said his broader vision for the department “is to expand their ability and inclination to serve as a group of individuals who view themselves more as care providers who must do a difficult job, but with compassion and skills that are deployed with intelligence."

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A spokesperson for the Vallejo Police Department did not respond to questions about the internal investigation, but pointed to the department’s reform efforts.

Ellis Investigations (formerly Ellis and Makus LLP), the law firm that prepared the investigative report obtained by KQED, was hired to look into Scott’s complaint of racial bias.

Scott has since left the Vallejo Police Department and now works for the Solano County district attorney. He did not respond to messages requesting comment.

Scott’s complaint alleged that his boss, Mustard, repeatedly undermined and denigrated him because he is Black, according to the investigative report. He said that on two occasions Mustard called him “boy,” a historically racist and demeaning reference. In a 2011 decision where a white supervisor called a Black employee "boy," the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the term can be proof of "racial animus."

This is not the first time Mustard has faced allegations of misconduct. The Appeal, a nonprofit news outlet, reported that Mustard withheld exculpatory evidence from criminal defendants in 2012 and 2020. In 2016, Mustard was sued over his handling of the infamous “Gone Girl” case in which he, along with the Vallejo Police Department, accused a couple of staging a home invasion and kidnapping. The city settled with the couple for $2.5 million in 2018.

That same year, Mustard was promoted to sergeant and put in charge of the VPD’s Investigations Division and the Evidence and Property Unit, according to the investigative report, where he was in charge of Scott.

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Mustard’s lawyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Mustard told investigators, according to the report, that he didn’t remember calling Scott "boy," but said if he did, there was nothing racist about it, and it is just a term that he sometimes uses, especially with younger people. Scott has been a cop for 21 years, according to a statewide database of officers.

The investigation found Mustard wasn’t being racist when he called Scott "boy," but it also found that Scott had good reason to find the term offensive.

Mustard explained to the investigator that the joke about Dixon being “dark as Coley’s ass” was actually not a reference to a Black person, but to a black dog owned by his grandfather.

The investigator did not find this explanation believable. Other witnesses contradicted Mustard, and the report states that Mustard’s joke was actually a not-uncommon phrase used about Black people. Sometimes, according to the report, "Coley" was “spelled Coalie or Coaley, which referred to a black person who delivered coal, primarily in the South.”

The investigation, which was completed on April 17, 2020, found that Mustard did make this racist joke, but did not find that Mustard’s other actions were based on racial animus toward Scott. The investigation also stated that Scott may have been motivated to file his complaint against Mustard to avoid an adverse transfer from the Investigations Division back to Patrol. The investigation does not indicate what, if any, discipline was imposed on Mustard.

Ellis Investigations did not respond to a request for comment.

Solano County Chief Deputy Public Defender Oscar Bobrow said he hadn’t seen the internal investigation and so couldn’t comment on the allegations against Mustard specifically, but he pointed out that Vallejo residents need to be able to trust their police department.

“I think any officer that displays outward racial animus or any kind of animus toward an individual or group of people, the department that runs that agency should be concerned, to say the least, that justice isn’t being administered fairly,” he said.

The investigator also found that two other detectives, Terry Schillinger and Scott Yates, weren't honest during the investigation, raising broader questions about the credibility of Vallejo’s embattled officers.

Police officers are often called to testify as witnesses for the prosecution against criminal defendants. As such, their credibility is key. The determination that Mustard, Schillinger and Yates were not truthful during an internal investigation could have consequences for the criminal cases in which they are called to testify. This kind of finding could be considered Brady evidence — named after the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brady v. Maryland, which held that prosecutors must turn over all exculpatory evidence, including that officers have credibility issues — and might be used by defense attorneys to try to impeach those officers if they take the stand.

The Solano County District Attorney’s Office said it cannot comment on the racial bias investigation or what impact it might have on its ongoing prosecutions.

According to documents, Yates told investigators that Mustard had told the joke involving his grandfather’s Black neighbor. After his interview, Yates called the investigator back to say Mustard’s joke wasn’t about a Black person, but about a black Labrador.  The investigation did not find his shifting story believable.

Scott also said that Mustard undermined him with fellow colleagues, speaking harshly to him in front of others, and that Mustard told Schillinger not to help him with a homicide investigation. Schillinger denied this, but the investigation did not find him credible. In fact, another sergeant interviewed during the investigation said that Schillinger told him that “he planned to answer untruthfully to anyone who questioned him regarding Sgt. Mustard's conduct toward Cpl. Scott.”

A lawyer for the two detectives did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Vallejo Police Department did not answer questions about what, if any, discipline was imposed on Mustard, Schillinger or Yates. Schillinger is currently vice president of the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association, and Yates is secretary. Mustard is a former president. The VPOA did not respond to messages requesting comment.

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