Saying their loved one’s civil rights were violated the night six police officers shot him to death as he slept in his car, the family of a 20-year-old rap artist filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court against the city and police leaders as well as the officers involved.
Willie McCoy, 20, was shot to death by six Vallejo police officers after he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car on Feb. 9 while parked in a Taco Bell drive-thru.
The legal action follows an extensive investigation by NBC Bay Area that revealed the Vallejo Police Department has highest per capita rate of fatal shootings in Northern California, the third highest in the state, according to data from California’s Attorney General.
The 26-page civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Willie McCoy’s family members.
The lawsuit claims top Vallejo city officials ignored past problems and, along with police Chief Andrew Bidou, created a culture inside the police department that the lawsuit says gave police officers the impression that it’s OK to hurt and kill people.
“We have death cases, we have people with use of force cases, who now have criminal arrests in their history,” said Melissa Nold, the lead plaintiff’s lawyer in the case.
Though McCoy did have a gun in his lap, the lawsuit claims police officers surrounded McCoy’s car, did not take measures to ensure their own safety, did not take cover and did not plan to confront McCoy and wake him up properly.
The lawsuits says those officers did not try to wake him up in a manner to give McCoy time to react naturally when startled. Police body camera video shows when McCoy started waking up on his own, officers opened fire within seconds.
The suit also lists 20 other instances over the years where McCoy’s family’s legal team says Vallejo officers have used excessive force against other members of the public.
“In none of those cases do we have any evidence at all that any officers have been disciplined or demoted in any way,” said John Burris, another attorney for the McCoy family and a lawyer representing other people who have filed suit against Vallejo police and the city in the past.
NBC Bay Area’s investigation found the 16 people killed by Vallejo police in less than a decade adds up to a rate of 13.8 people killed per capita (per 100,000 residents). That’s a rate far higher than any other agency in Northern California, including Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, as well as Vallejo’s neighbor, Richmond, which has a similar high violent crime rate.
- Vallejo Police Have Highest Rate of Residents Shot Per Capita in Northern California; NBC Bay Area Probes Causes
A spokesman for Vallejo’s Police Department said he could not comment on pending lawsuits.
But in NBC Bay Area’s earlier reporting, Bidou defended his officers, saying they were in the process of coming up with a plan when McCoy woke up, and the officers reacted by firing because of fears McCoy might use the gun in his lap.
If you have a tip for Stephen Stock you can reach him via email Stephen.Stock@nbcuni.com or contact the Investigative Unit at 1-888-996-8477.