Then-San Jose Police Department Capt. Jason Ta, left, poses in the Vallejo City Council chambers for a photograph with Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams minutes after Williams was sworn in as Vallejo's police chief on Nov. 12, 2019. In 2021, Williams recruited Ta to serve as his deputy chief of police.
Then-San Jose Police Department Capt. Jason Ta, left, poses for a photograph with Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams minutes after Williams was sworn in as Vallejo’s police chief on Nov. 12, 2019. In 2021, Williams recruited Ta to serve as his deputy chief of police. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

Vallejo Deputy Police Chief Jason Ta arrived at the scene of a March homicide reeking of alcohol, unnerving command staff responsible for coordinating the search for the killer, according to an internal memo authored by a former captain and obtained by Open Vallejo.

Ta reported the incident to Police Chief Shawny Williams days later, and only after being confronted by the memo’s author, former Capt. Jason Potts. When months went by without evidence of a formal investigation from the department, Potts took his complaint directly to the city manager, sources with knowledge of the matter told Open Vallejo.

Now, the city has opened an investigation led by an outside law firm, the sources said.

Potts noted in his memo that Ta may have violated several department policies prohibiting officers from working or carrying a firearm while impaired by alcohol. He also alleged that Ta smoked nicotine in front of the dead man’s family, another potential violation of policy.

“This matter was brought to the attention of the Chief six days after the alleged incident, and an immediate review was conducted,” Williams told Open Vallejo in a statement Wednesday after declining to answer other questions and requests for a phone interview. 

“The Office of the Chief has not been notified of any secondary review into this confidential police personnel matter,” the chief wrote about the city’s alleged outside investigation. “If there are any new details of allegations that warrant further investigation, that will be conducted in a fair, thorough and objective manner.”

Potts wrote that he initially intended the memo for Chief Williams, but after Williams was notified of the incident, Potts instead forwarded the document to himself on March 28 to “serve as a formal notification” and for “dissemination if requested by an investigative body.” Potts has since resigned from the Vallejo Police Department to take a job as the Director of the Las Vegas Department of Public Safety. He declined to comment for this story.

In 2021, Williams recruited Ta from the San Jose Police Department, where they both worked between 1996 and 2019. Ta is one of four deputy or assistant chiefs hired by Williams since he took office in November, 2019, and the only one still employed with the department. Ta did not respond to requests for comment.

‘One drink’

Around 5:00 p.m. on March 16, Vallejo police called on the city’s SWAT team to help search for suspects in a shooting on Mark Ave, in Vallejo’s Crest neighborhood. Members of the department’s drone team also responded to the scene. 

A few hours after the shooting, Deputy Chief Ta showed up to the scene “in full class B uniform,” including a “gun, badge, police radio, and equipment,” according to Potts, who was the incident commander that night. 

Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

Former Vallejo Police Capt. Jason Potts, right, seen here as officers prepared to eject demonstrators from a city council meeting on May 14, 2019. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

“Almost immediately, I smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage,” Potts wrote in his memo. “I could smell the odor from 3 to 4 feet away.” 

Initially, Potts also believed he observed Ta’s “slight slurring” and “watery eyes,” he wrote, though he noted that Ta’s altered demeanor and smell had dissipated after several hours. He added that the deputy chief “was only an observer that evening and was not making any decisions” regarding the incident. 

At least two other members of Vallejo’s command staff also noticed that Ta smelled of alcohol, according to the memo. 

Lt. Bobby Knight, who was the tactical commander that night, confirmed to Potts that the smell was coming from Ta, according to the memo. And five days later, Knight told Potts that an officer under his command, Sgt. Jeff Tai, independently reported that Ta smelled of alcohol on March 16, Potts wrote. When Knight asked Tai whether others on scene also noticed the odor coming from the deputy chief, Tai responded, “Oh yea.” 

Knight and Tai did not respond to requests for comment. 

Upon learning that a third officer had noticed the potential policy violations, Potts decided to confront Ta over the allegations. On March 22, Ta allegedly admitted to Potts that he had “one drink” before arriving at the crime scene, according to the memo. Ta said he would inform Chief Williams of the incident, which the chief confirmed he did later that day, Potts wrote. 

The memorandum lists a dozen witnesses who may have come into close contact with Ta at the crime scene. The chief, however, did not seem to take any formal steps to investigate the matter, sources with knowledge of the matter told Open Vallejo.

In June, Potts reported the incident directly to officials in City Hall, the sources said. By the second week of July, at least one witness had received a notice for an interview related to the city’s administrative investigation. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal police or personnel matters.

The chief declined to answer specific questions about the nature of the department’s review or why the city would initiate a separate investigation. A spokesperson for the city did not return calls for comment. Vallejo City Manager Michael Malone declined to comment for this story.

Explaining why he did not notify the chief of his observations on the day of the incident, Potts cited concerns about potential retaliation. He also noted Ta and Williams’ “long career working together at the San Jose Police Department.”

“Frankly, when I observed the behavior, I should have confronted Deputy Chief Ta but didn’t,” Potts wrote, adding that he should have subsequently called the chief of police, and “perhaps” requested a test of Ta’s blood alcohol content. 

Potts wrote that if he and Ta had a “more trusting relationship,” he would have offered the deputy chief a ride home, “or at the very least,” would have let him know “that he could leave before others (subordinates) had noticed the embarrassing observations.”

Laurence Du Sault is Open Vallejo’s senior writer and editor focused on technical publications and investigations.