The ex-captain says officers in Vallejo, California, put up a badge to mark each fatal police killing

In Velejo, California, a former police captain is accused of a secret ritual that has triggered an internal investigation of the city’s armed police force: he says every officer involved in the deadly shootings since 2000 has been marked every time For tilting the tips of their star-shaped badges. He killed someone in the line of duty.

Former Valezo Police Capt. John Whitney, a 19-year department veteran and former SWAT commander who was fired from the job in August last year, described the alleged tradition in an interview published this week by Open Valezo.

According to unaffiliated news outlets, officers involved in the fatal shootings marked those incidents with a backyard barbecue and were initiated into a “secret faction” that included one of their seven-point sterling silver badge tips Included. The outlet said it spoke with more than 20 current and former government officials and reviewed records and hundreds of photographs before and after the fatal shooting. The two officers named in the report denied the badge to be a badge, with one telling Open Velejo that it was a “lie”.

Vallejo, a Bay Area community of 122,000 people, has been in the headlines for its high numbers in recent years – 18 since 2010 – compared to other California cities. Last month, the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the Justice Department would conduct a “comprehensive review” of the Velezzo Police Department after claiming lawsuits demanding an external investigation into the actions of excessive force and residents’ officials.

Shawnee Williams, the first African American police chief to become head of the department in November after former chief Andrew Bidou retired, said in a statement to NBC News on Thursday that “celebrating the killing of humans is never acceptable.”

“I’m very upset with these allegations,” he said.

According to Open Vallezo, of the 51 current and former Valzo officers involved in the shootings and shootings since 2000, at least 14 had their badges flanked by a colleague later as part of an “exclusive custom” that was lethal There were also some officials involved in it. The shooting was never reported to exist.

She was later fired, with Whitney filing an amended retaliation claim against the city in March, but did not mention the tradition of bending the badge. Whitney made the comment through her attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, who said she plans to file an erroneous termination lawsuit next week, which would include what she knew, among other charges, and her appearance as a whistleblower. Will be described in

He added, “We are grateful that Chief Williams has condemned this deeply disturbing practice, but we are skeptical because the evidence could have been destroyed since then, and the authorities involved have a chance to deny indecency.” he said.

Wilkinson said her client was trying to “speak against the negative culture” within the department, including the badge, and was thrown out as a result.

Police captains have done “at-will” employment with the department, she said, but she is preparing a lawsuit because Whitney believes she was not given due process and her “whistleblowing activities” forced her to Played a role in the departure.

“They definitely set out to tear him apart because that was what was right,” Wilkinson said.

The city did not respond to Whitney’s retaliation claim, which he said “expressed his professional opinion with the police department on a wide variety of malpractice issues.” Whitney said that his dismissal was related to an investigation about leaked information and he was charged with improperly handling the information. Wilkinson said he was cleared of the leaked case, but Whitney was still fired, saying it was related to erasing personal data, including family photos, from his work phone.

When Whitney left the department, Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayne wrote a recommendation letter that also related to Whitney’s claim. “Frankly, I believe that because John talked about a negative culture on the Vallejo Police Department, his reputation was filthy by those who didn’t want to broadcast any ‘dirty laundry’,” the letter. it is said.

A city spokeswoman said Thursday that Whitney was unavailable for comment about his retaliation claim or described in the badge-bending tradition.

Attempts to reach the retired police chief, Bidu, by phone on Thursday and Friday were not immediately successful, and an email to the Valejo Police Officers Association was not immediately returned on Friday. His current employer, Pacific Gas & Electric, refused to provide Bidou, but said in a statement that the company “is aware of these serious allegations that do not reflect our company’s values ​​nor the expectations of our employees . “

In a statement, City Manager Greg Nhoff said that last year Sampan alerted him to “disturbing allegations”, prompting him to ask Bido about the claim of bending the badge. The then chief told Nhoff that he had previously investigated the claim and that it had “not been confirmed,” Nahoff said.

Nahoff said, “City takes all claims or credible information regarding potential misconduct seriously. “Chief Williams is currently pursuing previous allegations on all investigative measures, and he will take appropriate and necessary action based on the information provided.”

Williams said he would “conduct an investigation and take corrective action to help the department understand the culture in more ways,” adding that it could open an official investigation “if reliable evidence is found.”

He said, “I want our community to know that malpractice will never be tolerated under my administration.”

Wilkinson said Whitney learned about the bending of the badge in April 2019, two months after the fatal shooting of rapper Willie McCoy. McCoy was sleeping in his car at a fast-food restaurant drive-thru and restaurant staff said they could not get up. Police said they found their car locked and in drive, and saw a handgun on their lap. When McCoy was unresponsive, officers devised a plan to lock his car inside the drive-through, so that he could stop any irregular movement when he woke up. Eventually, he saw McCoy running according to a videocame video of the incident.

As McCoy woke up, six officers fired bullets from 55 rounds, saying they feared he had the weapon.

An investigation into officers’ conduct during the shooting remains open.

Once Whitney learned how to bend the badge, he “wanted an investigation done at the time and also wanted the disturbing practice to end and be condemned,” Wilkinson said.

Whitney, given his high ranking status, had ordered observers at the end of a meeting to inspect the badge and collect any Libra from his subordinates; 10 were retrieved, Wilkinson said.

Wilkins said that according to Whitney, Bidou returned the badge to the officers, who would be responsible for replacing or repairing them.

“What happened to those badges are unknown to my client,” she said, looking at the time that has passed, any evidence of the alleged badge-bending custom is now gone.

Vallejo Police Lt. Michael Nickellini, president of the Vallejo Police Officers Association, called the charge a “ridiculous notion” and said the badges were bent for the purpose, that it is wrong because “they come this way.”

“In all these attacks on Velejo police officers, there are lies planted to fit a narrative,” he said in a statement.

Nickelini has been on leave since July 15 in connection with the destruction of a police vehicle windshield that the department failed to preserve and is believed to be evidence in the June 22 fatal shooting of a 22-year-old man. Becerra’s office announced this month that it would open an investigation into the evidence destruction.

However, his office referred comments on allegations of a badge-bending practice with Vallejo city officials.

Sampan, who retired from the Vallejo Police Department as a Sergeant in 2006, has said that he recalled an incident during his career when an officer bowed one corner of his badge, but did not know what it represented. He told the Vallejo Times-Herald that after bringing it to the attention of authorities more than a year ago, “changes have been made.”

“I’m not very happy with representing it,” he said. “To tell and convince that you shot someone is absolutely disgusting. There is no room for that type of performance.”

Corey McCoy, an older brother of Willie McCoy, said he was not surprised by the allegations and confirmed that the police department “should be investigated from top to bottom.”

“We’re telling Day One that Willie was killed,” McCoy said.

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