Around dinner time on Feb. 13, 2018, Ronell Foster was riding his bike on a wide road that runs through the historic downtown of Vallejo, California. The 33-year-old did not own a car, and cycled nearly everywhere he went around his hometown, often flanked by his teenage son and 5-year-old daughter.
But that night, Foster was riding alone, swerving in and out of traffic lanes without a bike light, and caught the attention of officer Ryan McMahon, who pursued Foster in his car. Foster hit the brakes, and McMahon ordered him to “come over and sit in front of my car,” according to the officer’s deposition in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Foster’s family.
“Stop messing with me,” Foster responded before taking off on his bike in the opposite direction, McMahon recalled in his deposition testimony. The officer got back in his car and chased him down.
Foster soon fell from his bike and ran away. When McMahon continued the chase on foot, Vallejo policy required him to notify the department by radio. But that is not what he did. Instead, he left his patrol car and followed Foster toward a dark walkway between two houses.
As they ran, McMahon tased the African-American man in the back without a warning, although officers are required to give one unless it puts them in danger. The officer later said he did so in part because he saw Foster grabbing his pants, causing him to think Foster had a firearm. Foster, who was unarmed, kept running but fell. As he tried to get up, McMahon pushed him, causing Foster to fall down a small flight of cement stairs, the officer testified in the lawsuit. McMahon then straddled his back.
Body camera footage shows Foster lying on the pavement without fighting back when McMahon, standing next to him, fired his Taser once more. Then the officer struck Foster in the head and body with a 13-inch metal flashlight, Foster’s family alleged in court records. As McMahon swung to hit again, Foster caught the flashlight and tried to get up.
While some facts of the case are disputed, what happened next is not: McMahon shot Foster seven times. Autopsy records show he hit Foster once in the head, four times in the back and twice on the left side of his body, killing him.
“It’s all good,” McMahon said as backup arrived minutes later. “He’s down. He’s down.”