VALLEJO, Calif. — The police chief of a San Francisco Bay Area city under scrutiny after several fatal police shootings said he is opening an inquiry into allegations that officers bent their badges to mark on-duty killings.
Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that he would not tolerate such a "despicable" act if the claims are true.
"It would be considered vandalism of department property," Williams said. "And if you're doing that in celebration of a killing or shooting, then it's completely disturbing."
The inquiry could lead to an independent investigation.
John Whitney, a former Vallejo police captain, previously accused the department of firing him in August for flagging misconduct that included concerns that some officers bent their badges in a ritual to mark fatal shootings.
Whitney's claims about his firing were first reported by the news site Open Vallejo.
Williams, who was appointed chief in November, said he had never noticed a bent badge on his force, and has not spoken about the allegations to any of the accused officers.
Family members of people who have been killed by Vallejo police expressed anger about the allegations and said they were not surprised by the claims.
"It kind of backs up what everybody has been saying or hearing," said Marc McCoy, the older brother of Willie McCoy, a 21-year-old man who was shot to death by Vallejo officers in 2019 after he fell asleep with a gun in his lap in his car in a Taco Bell drive-through.
Alison Berry Wilkinson, an attorney representing Whitney, told the newspaper that her client flagged the misconduct to Mayor Bob Sampayan and other city officials before he was fired after 19 years on the job. Whitney said he became aware of the practice after the killing of McCoy.
Sampayan, who joined the city's police force in 1985 and retired as a sergeant after 27 years with the department, said Wednesday that he was "appalled" by the allegations. He said he could recall one incident during his career when an officer had a bent corner on his badge, but Sampayan didn't think anything of it until Whitney came to him with allegations following his dismissal from the department.
"My first thought would be to say I'm sorry (to the community), and that we need to change that culture. I am appalled by that behavior," said Sampayan, who was elected in 2016.
He and the City Council have called for a special prosecutor to handle the investigation into the death of Sean Monterrosa. The 22-year-old San Francisco man was killed on June 2 when a Vallejo police officer responding to a looting report opened fire with a high-powered rifle, firing five rounds through the windshield of an unmarked police vehicle.
Police later said Monterrosa had a hammer but no gun. Police launched a separate investigation after the windshield — a key piece of evidence — was destroyed.
A police employee, who was not identified, was placed on administrative leave while the city retains an outside investigator to conduct the administrative investigation into destruction of evidence, officials said.