Impact

2019

February

Revealed the scope of Vallejo’s civil rights settlements

Revealed, for the first time, that the city has paid $10.1 million in civil rights settlements and judgments since 2003. We explained how this caused the city’s municipal insurance provider of 31 years to cut ties with Vallejo in 2018, leading to increased annual insurance costs of $2.5 million. These revelations informed later stories by KTVU, NBC News, and other media outlets.


March

Forced Vallejo to disclose Willie McCoy shooting footage

After filing several public records requests that were rejected, forced the city to disclose body camera footage of six police officers killing 20-year-old Willie McCoy in February. A fusillade of police bullets struck McCoy after he when he stirred after falling asleep in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru, a gun allegedly on his lap. Open Vallejo successfully argued the city waived all exemptions to disclosure after a member of the city council admitted that police allowed him to view the footage upon request. The story made international news, generated tens of thousands of unique Google News results, and was published in at least half a dozen languages. It also provided support for McCoy family’s allegations that McCoy was not yet awake when he was killed.

Uncovered training firm founded by retired officer who killed three men in five months in 2012

Uncovered the existence of Line Driven Strategies, LLC, a law enforcement training firm founded months earlier by retired Vallejo police officer Sean Kenney. Kenney killed three men in a five-month span in 2012, left the department, and returned a year later with a promotion.  In 2017 Kenney wounded another man who alleges he had his hands raised when he was shot. With five shootings since 2010, Kenney is the Vallejo Police Department’s most prolific shooter.

Although public records show Kenney actively sought to contract with Vallejo, and while he has contracts to train numerous other departments, to date no such relationship exists between the city of Vallejo and Kenney.


April

Exposed outgoing police chief’s illegal plan to retire and serve as “interim chief” at $40,000 per month

Exposed a plan to allow Vallejo’s police chief Andrew Bidou to retire amidst intense criticism, then begin work as “interim chief” the next day, effectively doubling his salary to $40,000 per month. The San Francisco Chronicle and KTVU published stories, which led to spirited public comment at the city council meeting several days later. The city council approved the plan anyway. An unknown whistleblower came forward soon after. CalPERS determined that Bidou was two-and-a-half months shy of being eligible for the otherwise-lawful scheme, as he had been classified as a miscellaneous employee for that amount of time in 1989. Vallejo abandoned the plan, Bidou left for good (with no apparent input into his successor), and the city announced it would conduct an open recruitment for its new chief.

Prompted the city attorney to backtrack regarding city council agenda item listing 68 matters for closed session

After Open Vallejo filed a Brown Act complaint, Vallejo City Attorney Claudia Quintana admitted error in a front-page story by The Vallejo Times-Herald.

Clarified why Vallejo’s request for help from U.S. DOJ is unlikely to result in positive change

Explained that the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service is unlikely to result in meaningful reforms to the Vallejo Police Department, as the “peacemaker” agency has no investigative or prescriptive authority.

Obtained the Vallejo Police Department policy manual

Compelled the Vallejo Police Department to disclose its policy manual, apparently for the first time. However, the department redated the document “like it’s the Mueller report or something,” as one reporter observed. The redactions, none of which appear valid, include the department’s policies regarding the search and seizure of journalist work product. We are contemplating a public records lawsuit to force disclosure of the improperly-redacted information.


May

Compelled disclosure of 2018 police shooting footage, prompting calls for murder charges against the office

Forced disclosure of body camera video depicting the death of Ronell Foster, a 33-year-old father of two, who was shot in the back and the back of the head while unarmed. The officer who killed him, Ryan McMahon, was also involved in Willie McCoy’s death less than a year later. McMahon is currently under criminal investigation. He has invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to a deposition notice.

Published video of excessive force being used on Willie McCoy’s 20-year-old-niece, strengthening calls for reform of the police department

In partnership with the San Francisco Chronicle, published two eyewitness videos that depict 20-year-old Deyana Jenkins being forcibly removed from her car and tased, apparently while in handcuffs. Jenkins is Willie McCoy’s niece. A licensed driver, she was arrested after she was unable to produce her license.

Held officials accountable for promise to keep police chief search transparent

Provided key information about the executive search process for Vallejo’s new police chief. Open Vallejo later exposed  how the city failed to provide an open and transparent process, while forcing it open ourselves.

Provided important context after former Oakland police chief received no-bid consulting contract

Informed the public about Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan’s record after he was awarded a no-bid $80,000 contract to advise Vallejo’s city manager on police practices. This remains a point of intense public discussion.

Explained how the Vallejo Police Department’s erroneous closed captioning of shooting videos misleads the public

Demonstrated how Vallejo miscaptioned dialogue at critical moments of both the Foster and McCoy videos in a way that serves the police version of events, and explained its broader significance.


June

First reported that police fired 55 rounds at Willie McCoy, and that a city consultant found this ‘reasonable’

Broke the news that Vallejo police fired 55 rounds at Willie McCoy, and that a consultant hired by the city found this reasonable, all before a lawsuit had even been filed. (That same consultant found officers acted reasonably in the shooting death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento.) The story received widespread local, regional, and national attention. Both the Guardian and the Los Angeles Times credited Open Vallejo for the scoop.

Revealed the City of Vallejo knowingly repurposed a community group’s brand for a unity-themed public relations campaign, causing officials to reverse course

Revealed how the City of Vallejo knowingly used the name of an existing community group led by young people of color for a public relations campaign apparently intended, at least in part, to neutralize criticism of the police department. The group, Unite Vallejo, had tried unsuccessfully to enter into dialogue with city officials. A little over a week after Open Vallejo published a note about the city’s use of Unite Vallejo’s name, the group was granted a meeting, and the city’s campaign became “Vallejo Unites.”

Once “Vallejo Unites” launched, Open Vallejo detailed the violent histories of several officers the city chose to feature in the campaign.


July

Filed Brown Act complaint that caused city to change its public meeting procedures

Filed a Brown Act complaint over city manager’s unagendized soliloquy at a June city council meeting, which led to immediate change in council procedures.

Launched secure Signal tip line

Launched (707) TIP-TEXT, an encrypted text-based tip line using the Signal app, and began receiving community tips.


August

Obtained unreleased shooting video pursuant to new law

Obtained body camera footage of a non-fatal police shooting that took place in January, 2019. Open Vallejo requested this footage pursuant to AB 748, a new law expanding disclosure of critical incident video and audio, minutes after it took effect on July 1, 2019.


September

Hastened city’s announcement of new police chief

Learned the identities of finalists to become Vallejo’s new chief of police more than a week in advance of the process coming to a close. The city responded to increasingly specific requests regarding the chosen candidate by announcing his selection weeks earlier than planned.


October

Discovered a provision in draft police union contract to bar discretionary drug testing, which generated more than 2 hours of discussion at next city council meeting

Days before a city council vote to ratify a new police union contract, Open Vallejo discovered a draft provision barring all discretionary drug testing of officers following shootings, serious vehicle accidents and other incidents leading to death or great bodily harm. Found in a nearly 900-page document, the revelation sparked two hours of protest and discussion at the council meeting. The council approved the contract over community concerns, which has intensified debate about removing councilmembers from office.

Obtained surveillance footage police union vice president made of civil rights lawyer, others at council meeting

Along with The Vallejo Times-Herald, obtained and published nearly 15 minutes of covert surveillance footage Vallejo Police Officers’ Association Vice President Lt. Michael Nichelini made of civil rights attorney Melissa Nold, as Nold silently observed the proceedings of the city council debate on the police union’s contract. This contributed to Nold’s decision to draft a letter to Vallejo City Attorney Claudia Quintana regarding alleged threats and intimidation she and her clients have experienced in connection with pending federal civil rights cases. Rebuffed by Quintana, Nold then shared the footage with the California Department of Justice. She later filed a citizen complaint, resulting in an Internal Affairs investigation into Nichelini.

Exposed prohibited ex parte communication to judge from Vallejo city attorney, prompting her early retirement

Obtained ex parte correspondence between city attorney Claudia Quintana and Solano County Presiding Judge John B. Ellis, who admonished Quintana about the prohibited one-sided communication, which suggested judges favor the city in cases her office was prosecuting at the time. As one expert pointed out, this represents a serious ethical lapse on a fundamental principle of due process. It could lead to an investigation of Quintana by the California State Bar. By retiring nearly five years early, Quintana walks away from approximately 40% of her pension, as well as the additonal benefit of full medical coverage for life.


November

Six months after disclosure of Foster shooting video, activists protest failure of DA to bring murder charges

Citing body camera footage made public by Open Vallejo, impacted family members, their attorneys and other members of the community staged a protest inside the office of Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams over her failure to announce a murder charge against Vallejo officer Ryan McMahon, who is now on leave.


December

Prompted public records policy overhaul that lengthens retention periods, strengthens oversight

Citing scrutiny from Open Vallejo, its advisory board member Dan Rubins, and Vallejo Times-Herald reporter John Glidden, the city updated its public records policy on December 3, 2019. The changes include: extending email retention to 2 years from the current automatic deletion schedule of 90 days, which may have been unlawful; requiring city officials to identify and retain public records stored in personal devices and accounts; imposing on officials a “diligent search” certification, signed under penalty of perjury, in all cases; and other oversight mechanisms that will help bring Vallejo into compliance with current law.