From a temporary command post outside the local Best Buy, a two-mile drive from the Walgreens, Williams and incident commander Capt. Jason Potts heard the reports of shots fired over the radio, records show. They had been monitoring police activity and coordinating with Horton throughout the night; between 9:00 p.m. and 12:36 a.m., the chief and captain spoke approximately 20 times, Horton later told investigators. But there is no indication that Williams filed a report regarding his involvement that night. The OIR Group, which according to the report was “acting under the authority of the Chief of Police,” did not mention Williams but for a footnote that the chief strengthened the department’s de-escalation policy in 2019.
Potts immediately headed to the scene, where he learned the drone had recorded the shooting. Potts dispatched Ofc. Brad Kim to collect the device from the Medic Ambulance office where White worked, records show.
In an exchange captured by Kim’s body camera at Medic Ambulance around 1:20 a.m., White explained what he witnessed.
“I saw the guy running away,” he said. “But then I looked and I was like, oh, he’s down.”
Without further questions, Kim ended the interview, less than four minutes after it began. He picked up a paper grocery bag containing the drone, iPad and controller and headed back to Vallejo police headquarters, where he handed it to Potts at 1:34 a.m. This concluded his involvement in the case, he wrote.
Potts claimed he initially locked the drone in his office, according to a chain of custody report written more than nine weeks after the shooting. But minutes later, he carried the drone to the chief’s office so investigators could use the room to sequester Wagoner, according to the report. The drone remained in the paper grocery bag until it reached Williams’ office, where it was placed in a locked cabinet, Potts wrote.
Neither Kim, Potts, or Williams booked the device into evidence despite a policy that requires that any employee who first collects property retain and book it into the evidence room before going off-duty, after which the evidence is carefully tracked by trained, non-sworn personnel. The policy allows a supervisor to bypass this requirement.
The drone remained in the chief’s office until 4:10 a.m., records show; what unfolded in those more than two hours remains unknown to all but those closest to the chief. When Williams and Potts transferred custody of the drone to Det. Kevin Rose, a former software developer, Rose was unable to open the two video files that correlated to the approximate time of the shooting, records show. In a report detailing the steps he took to recover the footage, Rose wrote that he eventually “formed the opinion that there is some problem with the SD card within the drone on which the videos had been recorded.”
Five days after the shooting, Rose shipped the drone to the U.S. Secret Service National Computer Forensic Institute in Tulsa, Okla. The Secret Service confirmed on June 25 that the footage of the shooting was gone.
“Specifically, the video taken with the drone on or about 06/02/2020, had the folder structure intact,” wrote Special Agent Stephen Baskerville, “but all of the internal data had been overwritten with ‘0’s’,” rendering the video files unrecoverable.
“Upon further research into DJI devices,” Baskerville continued, “it was determined that this ‘overwrite’ occurs when the device (drone) is improperly shutdown.”
But in an interview last September, White told Open Vallejo that he and his colleagues handled the evidence appropriately, adding that he believed police could be counted on to do the same. He did not further comment on the shooting, but records show White had asked a coworker to wait by the drone and prevent anyone from touching it or powering it down until police arrived.
The coworker who safeguarded White’s drone told Rose it was still powered on and connected to the iPad when police arrived at the Medic Ambulance office to seize it. Even after Rose retrieved the device from Williams’ office, downloaded the videos and conducted several attempts to recover the files, the battery remained at 3%, he noted in his report. The next day, Rose called White to ask about a charger and second battery, which a district attorney investigator retrieved and brought to Vallejo.
Rose left Vallejo earlier this year to join the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. He declined to comment for this article.