World Events

Vallejo police chief fires officer involved in killings of two Black men a year apart

The police chief of Vallejo, Calif., on Thursday fired an officer involved in two fatal shootings of Black men that occurred a year apart.

Ryan McMahon was terminated by the department following an internal affairs investigation that concluded he violated department policies by “engaging in unsafe conduct and neglect for basic firearm safety during the incident.”

McMahon killed Ronell Foster in 2018. And last year, he and five other officers fatally shot rapper Willie McCoy, who performed under the name Willie Bo.

[Warning: Video contains graphic content.] Willie McCoy, 20, was shot to death by police at a Taco Bell drive-through in February 2019. Six police officers fired 55 rounds in 3.5 seconds, an independent report says.

The department did not identify the incident related to the firing. But earlier this year, the police chief indicated he would take action to remove McMahon from the force after the McCoy shooting, in which six officers fired 55 bullets at the 20-year-old rapper, who had been sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell, on Feb. 9, 2019. Documents released in August revealed the department was seeking to act against McMahon for endangering another officer with his shots during that shooting.

“Any conduct outside the level of professionalism this city deserves will not be tolerated by the Vallejo Police Department,” Police Chief Shawny Williams said in announcing the termination. “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 firing comes as a number of deadly shootings by the Vallejo Police Department has led California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to begin a review of the department to recommend reforms to use-of-force policies and measures involving bias and community policing.

The deadly encounter with the rapper began after a Taco Bell employee reported a man slumped over in a Mercedes-Benz in the drive-through lane. McCoy was asleep when police officers approached and spotted a gun on his lap and the car was in drive. When McCoy awoke, he reached forward toward the gun, police said.

Police body-cam video showed another officer shouting for McCoy to put his hands where he could see them before gunshots erupted in rapid succession. The video released after public outcry revealed McCoy moved his hand to his shoulder before six officers unloaded 55 rounds in 3.5 seconds.

Before the shooting, body-cam video showed officers discussing whether the car was locked and whether they could pull McCoy out of the vehicle. One officer is heard saying that he will open the door and take the gun: “I’m gonna go in there and grab that gun. If he reaches for it….” One officer nods, and another responds, “Yup.”

Solano County’s district attorney has appointed a special prosecutor to review the shooting.

Less than a year before the McCoy shooting, McMahon fatally shot Foster after stopping him for riding a bicycle without a headlamp. The city and its insurer recently paid a $5.7-million settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit by Foster’s family.

The officer said he initiated the stop to educate Foster on the dangers to himself and traffic on Sonoma Boulevard. McMahon alleged that after a brief pursuit, when he got near Foster, the man tried to grab his flashlight and strike him during an altercation. McMahon said that with his life threatened, he shot McMahon. Foster received a shot to the back of the head and died at the scene.

The lawsuit alleged that the officer shot him as he ran. The Solano County district attorney’s office declined to charge the officer, calling the use of deadly force justified.

John Burris, an attorney who has represented both victims’ families, said McMahon “should have been fired for misuse of deadly fire and should not be terminated for firing at fellow officers.

“This sends the wrong message to officers,” Burris said. “This is a renegade department out of control.”

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