Photo of several police officers in riot gear, standing inside a building. One female officer in the center, identified by a badge as S. McDonough, looks intently ahead. The officers are wearing dark uniforms with helmets, badges, and have body cameras and various equipment attached to their belts.
Vallejo Police Ofc. Stephanie McDonough (center) assists in removing members of the public from Vallejo City Hall after police declared an unlawful assembly on May 14, 2019. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

A Vallejo homicide detective with a prior conviction for drunk driving was stopped by police in Sonoma County last month but allowed to leave after two on-duty colleagues came to collect her, an Open Vallejo investigation has found. 

Members of the Cotati Police Department responded late on March 18 to a “suspicious” vehicle near a shopping center in the small city about 45 minutes north of Vallejo, public records show. There they found Det. Stephanie McDonough, a 35-year-old member of the Vallejo Police Department whose shift had ended hours before, near an unmarked police SUV.

Photo of a police officer standing outdoors at night. The officer is in profile, looking to the left, with a beard and wearing a dark uniform with a badge and a radio. Red and blue police lights softly illuminate the background.
Vallejo Police Ofc. Mark Thompson helps secure the scene of a homicide on Feb. 28, 2024 in Vallejo, Calif. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

The encounter lasted more than an hour and a half, according to public records, but Cotati police did not arrest McDonough for any crime or tow her vehicle. Instead, two on-duty officers from Vallejo, Mark Thompson and Brad Kim, drove to Cotati and picked up McDonough near the beginning of their overnight shift, a source with knowledge of the matter told Open Vallejo. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal personnel matters. 

Cotati Police Chief Chris Simmons said in an email Friday that the incident was “contact only” and that the SUV was parked when officers arrived. Cotati police contacted their Vallejo counterparts “to find out if they wanted to pick up their department vehicle, which they ultimately did,” according to Simmons. 

“The subject voluntarily left the scene with Vallejo staff,” Simmons said. “Note that facilitating a safe ride home for citizens is a routine process in similar situations.” 

Kim did not respond to a request for comment. Thompson referred questions to Sgt. Rashad Hollis, the department’s public information officer. 

The image features two police officers standing indoors, shaking hands and smiling. The officer on the left is holding a plaque that includes the logo of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Both officers are in uniform with badges and name tags visible, and the background includes the American and California state flags.
Cotati Police Ofc. Tyler Wardle accepts a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award from then-Police Chief Michael Parish in June 2018. Credit: Cotati Police Department

“I can’t make a comment on that,” Thompson said of the alleged incident when reached by phone Thursday. 

Hollis declined to answer questions about the incident, including whether McDonough faced an internal investigation or was on administrative leave. 

“The Vallejo Police Department is unable to provide information regarding peace officer personnel matters,” he said, citing state confidentiality laws. 

The department subsequently issued a press release listing McDonough as a lead detective in a homicide investigation. She declined to comment for this article. 

“I apologize, I’m not allowed to say anything,” McDonough said in a brief phone call Thursday.

A photo of a man standing in a courtroom setting, wearing a gray suit with a tie. He has short hair and appears calm and collected.
Vallejo Police Ofc. Brad Kim leaves the preliminary hearing for Jamazea Kittell, whom Kim shot and wounded in June 2023, on Sept. 19, 2023 in Vallejo, Calif. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

Cotati event logs and dispatch audio obtained by Open Vallejo confirm the encounter but provide few details.

The records show Ofc. Michael Iturbe, who joined the Cotati Police Department last year, responded at 10:42 p.m. to a suspicious vehicle, a silver Ford, near E. Cotati Avenue and Lasalle Avenue. A few minutes later, a dispatcher sent Sgt. Tyler Wardle to assist Iturbe after he requested backup, according to the log.

Evening view of a stone sign with raised letters reading "COTATI POLICE" in front of a bare tree. The sign is lit from below, casting shadows on the letters, with a subdued dark blue sky in the background.
The Cotati Police Department in Cotati, Calif. on April 2, 2024 Credit: Brian L. Frank / Special to Open Vallejo

Records show that a dispatcher entered McDonough’s driver’s license number and vehicle information into the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, which allows police to access information about a person’s criminal history and driving record.

Wardle started his career in law enforcement with the Cotati Police Department in 2016, public records show. The advocacy organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving recognized him at an award ceremony in 2018, according to the Cotati Police Department’s Facebook page. Wardle arrested 43 DUI offenders in 2017, the most of any officer in the department, according to the post.

Wardle closed the incident at 12:16 a.m. on Tuesday, March 19, after the Vallejo officers arrived. Cotati police characterized the encounter as a “field event,” records show.

Neither Wardle nor Iturbe responded to requests for comment. 

The next afternoon, McDonough called Cotati police in search of her missing cell phone, which was pinging from the area of the police station, according to public records. A department employee brought the phone to the front counter, where McDonough’s husband retrieved it about an hour later.

‘Unbecoming’ conduct

Dusk scene featuring a stop sign at the intersection of Lasalle Ave. and E. Cotati Ave. The sign is in sharp focus with a soft-focus background, including a vehicle passing by and the fading light of the sky.
The intersection of E. Cotati Ave. and Lasalle Ave., in Cotati, Calif., on April 2, 2024. Credit: Brian L. Frank / Special to Open Vallejo

McDonough joined the Vallejo Police Department in 2013 after completing her studies at the Napa Valley Basic Police Academy, according to a city newsletter. She previously graduated from Sacramento State University with a bachelor’s degree. In addition to her detective duties, McDonough now serves as a field training officer and hostage negotiator for the department, records show. 

Image of a document titled "VALLEJO POLICE DEPARTMENT Memorandum," addressed to Officer Stephanie McDonough. It's a "Notice of Intent to Discipline-Suspension" signed by the Chief of Police, dated November 17, 2016, citing a violation of police policies. It reads: To: Stephanie McDonough, Police Officer, #646 From: Andrew Bidou, Chief of Police Date: November 17, 2016 Subject: Notice of Intent to Discipline-Suspension (Collision Review #2016-02) This is to inform you of my intent to issue an 80-hour suspension. You may forfeit vacation or compensation time in lieu of the 80-hour suspension. This proposed action is based on the following: . Vallejo Police Policy 321.5.1: Conduct- Laws Rules and Orderc: Violation of federal, state, local or administrative laws, rules or regulations, Vallejo Police Poliry 321.5.7: Conduct - Any other on or off-duty conduct which any member knows or reasonably should know is unbecoming a member of this depatflnent, is contrary to good order, efftciency or morale, or tends to reflect unfavorably upon this department or ib members, cR#2015-02 On February 26,2016, at 0255 hours, members of the Vacaville Police Department contacted you near Leisure Town Road and Maple Drive in the City of Vacaville. It was reported you were driving 80-100 mph in a 40 mph posted speed zone. At 0303 hours, you were contacted by wvo Vacaville Police Officers as a lone occupant of a vehicle. During your contact, you showed objective signs of being under the influence of alcohol and failed your field sobriety tests. In addition, you provided to alcohol samples of .16% BAC and .15% BAC.
On Nov. 17, 2016, Stephanie McDonough was served with a Notice of Intent to Discipline relating to her drunk driving conviction earlier that year. Credit: Vallejo Police Department

In February 2016, her third year on the force, Vacaville police pulled McDonough over around 3 a.m. after an off-duty officer called to report a suspected drunk driver, according to court records. McDonough was allegedly driving 80 to 100 mph in a 40 mph zone, according to a confidential Vallejo Police Department memo obtained by Open Vallejo.

Court records show McDonough failed a field sobriety and breathalyzer test. She pleaded no contest several months later to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of 0.16 percent, or twice the legal limit in California, according to court records. 

Solano County Superior Court Judge Ramona Garrett ordered McDonough to serve two days in jail, pay a $1,605 fine, and complete a 90-day first-offender DUI program, according to court records. The judge warned McDonough to refrain from driving with “any measurable amount of alcohol in your system,” according to an audio recording of her sentencing hearing. 

Image of a document titled "VALLEJO POLICE DEPARTMENT Memorandum," addressed to Officer Stephanie McDonough. It is a "Notice of Intent to Discipline-Written Reprimand" signed by the Chief of Police, dated February 13, 2017, also citing a violation of police policies. The full text reads: TO: Stephanie McDonough, Police Officer FROM: Andrew J. Bidou, Chief of Police DATE: February 13, 2017 SUBJECT: Notice of Intent to Discipline-Written Reprimand (CR# 2017-01) This is to inform you of my intent to issue a written reprimand. This proposed action is based on the following: • Finding in Internal Affairs Investigation #2017-01 CR# 2017-01 On January 18, 2017, at 1650 hours, while you were at a call for service at Redwood and Couch Streets, you were involved in a verbal and physical altercation with Officer Aimee Major. By your own admission, you were rude and discourteous to Officer Major saying, “This would have gone a whole lot differently because I would have talked to you later about it, but right now because you came at me like that. Don’t show up to someone’s call. Do everything and then potentially fuck it up and not expect to take the paper and the suspect.” You were also rude and discourteous to the detainee when you stated, “You are on probation for starting fucking fires, and I know it.” Based on the information captured in this investigation, the following violations of policy were sustained: Vallejo Police Policy 321.5.7: Conduct – Any other on or off-duty conduct which any member knows or reasonably should know is unbecoming a member of this department, is contrary to good order, efficiency or morale, or tends to reflect unfavorably upon this department or its members.
On Feb. 13, 2017, Stephanie McDonough was served with a Notice of Intent to Discipline relating to her interactions with a fellow officer and a detainee while responding to a call for service. Credit: Vallejo Police Department

Nine months after the incident, an internal affairs investigation found McDonough had violated two department policies by breaking the law and engaging in “unbecoming” conduct, according to the internal memo. Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou wrote that he intended to suspend McDonough for 80 hours without pay pending a pre-disciplinary hearing, though this was later reduced to 40 hours, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

In 2017, Bidou issued another notice of his intent to discipline McDonough, this time with a written reprimand, over an alleged verbal and physical altercation with another officer during a call for service. McDonough also admitted to being “rude and discourteous” to a person detained at the scene, according to the memo. 

Later that same year, McDonough was among five Vallejo officers who fatally shot 45-year-old Jeffrey Barboa following a chase that ended in a crash in Contra Costa County. Police fired approximately 50 rounds at Barboa as he walked slowly toward them while holding a knife over his head. 

A photo of a man in a business suit sitting in a witness box while giving testimony. He has short hair, a trimmed beard, and wears a blue suit with a tie.
Vallejo Police Ofc. David McLaughlin testifies about his role in the department’s “Badge of Honor” ritual in which officers bend the tips of their badges to commemorate shootings, on March 23, 2022 in Vallejo, Calif. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

The officers then went to the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association hall for drinks after “a rough day at work,” Ofc. David McLaughlin, one of the shooters and McDonough’s boyfriend at the time, testified in an unrelated criminal case in March 2022. (Former Vallejo police officer Jake Estrada, another participant in the shooting, testified that he did not remember McDonough being at the gathering.)

According to court records, three of the officers who shot Barboa — McLaughlin, Matthew Komoda, and Zachary Jacobsen — had previously participated in the department’s infamous “Badge of Honor” ritual, first revealed by this newsroom in 2020, in which officers bend a tip of their star-shaped badge to commemorate shootings. McLaughlin and Komoda testified under oath that a supervisor, Lt. Kent Tribble, bent their badges at a Vallejo bar in 2016. 

At least one Vallejo Police Department leader has also faced accusations involving alcohol in recent years.

Interim Police Chief Jason Ta, who as of Thursday is also leading the Vallejo Fire Department, allegedly arrived impaired at a homicide scene in early 2022, according to a department memo previously obtained by Open Vallejo. Ta was a deputy chief at the time of the incident. According to the memo, Robert Knight, a lieutenant at the time, noticed and reported the smell of alcohol coming from his superior that night. Knight now serves as Ta’s second-in-command after being promoted to deputy chief earlier this year. 

McDonough’s encounter with Cotati police happened roughly a month after an outside agency arrested a Vallejo officer.

On Feb. 14, Oakland police arrested Ofc. Ronald Dupree, 29, for alleged domestic violence, stalking, and threats directed at a former girlfriend. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has thus far declined to charge Dupree, who was released from custody a day after his arrest. Hollis, the department spokesperson, would not say whether Dupree remained on administrative leave as of Friday.

Anna Bauman is an investigative reporter with Open Vallejo.