Shooting of Willie McCoy
|Date||February 9, 2019|
Early life and rapping
McCoy lost both parents to cancer by the time he was 12 years old. He did well at sports in school, and earned his GED before dropping out to pursue music. Collaborators noted his work ethic and desire to succeed. Under the stage name Willie Bo, he was part of the group FBG (Forever Black Gods), performing songs about what NBC News described as "money, guns, and street violence," which a collaborator suggested was because "they needed to conform their lyrics, to look cool. I saw it more as a cool thing — kids see you on YouTube like you have all this money." Other lyrics related to overcoming challenges, such as growing up without a father.
On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, Willie McCoy was arrested for kidnapping and human trafficking by San Francisco police; Oakland police subsequently served a search warrant on Willie McCoy's residence, seizing "numerous" firearms. It is unclear what McCoy's role was in the theft of a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun he was carrying when he died.
Around the time of McCoy's shooting, Vallejo Police Department had about 100 officers and served approximately 122,000 people. Under its Police Chief at the time of McCoy's shooting, Andrew Bidou, it had increased officer training programs and undertaken community outreach initiatives. However, residents had expressed concerns about the department's use of force.
In 2012, its officers committed fatal shootings at around 38 times the national rate, or 20 times the rate in nearby Oakland and San Francisco. A third of the city's homicides were due to police. Around that time, some Vallejo residents asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Vallejo officers' use of force as it had done in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From 2015–2017, the department spent more per officer in fines or settlements for civil rights abuse claims than any other large police force in the Bay Area. (Settlements, which do not imply wrongdoing, can be easier and cheaper than court hearings.) From 2016–2019, five of Vallejo's police officers shot multiple people. At the time of McCoy's shooting, one of the officers who shot him was under a civil lawsuit for shooting a man dead in February 2018.
Around 10:30 pm February 9, 2019, McCoy was found unconscious at the drive-thru of a Vallejo, California Taco Bell, in his car, with a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun, while the engine was running and the car in drive. A Taco Bell employee called 911, informing the dispatcher that McCoy (who was not identified by name at this point) was unresponsive to people knocking on the car's window or honking their car horns. Six police officers arrived, and activated their bodycams.
The bodycam video and audio, which the police published March 30, 2019, showed that, for several minutes, officers with guns raised conversed next to McCoy's car while he was unconscious. The footage captured an officer saying that McCoy had on his lap a gun with its magazine "half out" such that McCoy would have at most one shot available; although the gun is not visible in the footage. The footage shows that the officers then decided to open the door to retrieve the alleged gun and remove McCoy from the car, but found the door locked and so instead attempted to block McCoy's car in the drive-thru. After some minutes, McCoy scratched his shoulder, though there is no indication he was alert or aware of his surroundings at this time.
McCoy then moved in a manner that was interpreted by the Vallejo Police Department as "hand reaches to gun on lap". The Guardian stated that the videos at that point are "blurry" and "show McCoy’s body moving slightly, but do not capture his hand moving to the firearm, which is not visible in the footage." NBC News said, "McCoy then jerks up and appears to reach down. His face is obscured by the officer's arm, pointing his gun." KTVU said McCoy "seems to bend from the waist and move his left arm." The New York Times said, "The footage showed that Mr. McCoy appeared to be asleep for at least several minutes, and that he was shot about 10 seconds after he began to move. It was unclear whether he was reaching for a gun."
According to the bodycam footage and witness footage, officers then yelled at McCoy, through the closed car window, to put his hands up, and fired at him less than three seconds later. The six officers fired 55 rounds at McCoy over approximately four seconds, before again telling McCoy to put up his hands.
McCoy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Vallejo police initially said that McCoy had a gun in his lap, and that officers had opened fire when he did not respond to demands to put his hands up and instead reached downwards. Police also said that this gun had been reported stolen in Oregon.
McCoy's family called the incident "execution by a firing squad", and expressed skepticism that McCoy had had a gun. According to McCoy's family and their attorney, around the time of his death McCoy was fatigued from recent touring and recording.
One of the family's attorneys, who had previously worked in a coroner's office, said McCoy had received roughly 25 wounds in the shooting. The family said McCoy had been shot in the head, ear, neck, chest, arms, shoulders, hands, and back. At the end of February 2019, the family filed a wrongful death claim against the city.
As of March 5, 2019, the Solano County district attorney's office had not responded to journalists' requests for information about an inquiry into the shooting. On March 13, 2019, Vallejo's police chief, Andrew Bidou, announced his retirement amid criticism of his department's conduct. (Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said Bidou's retirement was long-planned, not due to recent criticism of the department. City officials echoed this, voting unanimously for Bidou to remain until succeeded.)
The same day, some members of McCoy's family were permitted to see police footage of the shooting (their lawyer was allegedly refused), based upon which they said that McCoy appeared to still be asleep when the police opened fire, and did not appear to have reached for a gun.
On March 30, 2019, allegedly without notifying McCoy's family, Vallejo police published officers' bodycam videos from the shooting. In an annotation on the footage, police alleged that McCoy had on his lap, prior to the shooting, a gun loaded with an extended 14-round magazine (not a gun with the magazine "half out" as mentioned by an officer in the footage).
In April 2019, McCoy's family said that the handgun McCoy had was for his protection. The police said the gun was stolen.
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[McCoy] had recently returned from a tour with his group and was likely fatigued that evening, said ... Willie's cousin.
- "Young US Rapper Was Shot 25 Times By Cops On Face, Throat, Chest: Lawyer". NDTV.com. March 28, 2019. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
[A lawyer for McCoy's family] said McCoy, 20, had been recording at a family member's home when he decided to go to a Taco Bell restaurant late in the evening.
- "US police shot man as he woke in his car". BBC News. February 13, 2019. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
Mr McCoy's cousin ... said [McCoy] had finished up a session in a recording studio before he drove to the Taco Bell.
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Neither McCoy's face nor the weapon are clearly visible, but one officer says he notices the gun with a magazine half out, so at the most it would have one bullet that could have been fired.
- FOX (March 30, 2019). "Vallejo police release body cam video of Willie McCoy shooting". KTVU. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
'He's got a gun in his lap. The magazine's half out, so he's only got one shot if he shoots. Door looks unlocked,' said an officer. 'I'm thinking we snatch him out.'
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Willie's older brother ... doesn't know why his brother may have been slumped over, but says the rapper had being touring and was exhausted.
- Mosbergen, Dominique (February 20, 2019). "California Rapper Found Sleeping In Car Was Shot '25 Times' By Police, Attorney Says". Huffington Post.
McCoy’s family said the rapper, whose stage name was Willie Bo, had been in the recording studio in the days leading up to his fatal encounter with police and had likely been so exhausted that he’d fallen asleep while waiting to order food.
- "Six officers who shot California rapper 25 times 'bungled' operation, legal claim says". NBC News. February 28, 2019. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
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Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou announced his retirement Wednesday amid growing criticism of the Police Department's conduct just over a month after officers killed a local man in a Taco Bell drive-thru... In recent years, the department's conduct has been the focus of protests, wrongful-death claims by mourning family members of relatives killed by Vallejo police officers, and other legal claims. ... This year, the department was again met with community protests after six Vallejo police officers shot and killed a local man who had been passed out behind the wheel of a vehicle in a Taco Bell drive-through line on [February] 9. Vallejo police said officers opened fire when Willie McCoy, 21, woke up and reached for a gun on his lap. McCoy's family publicly criticized the officer's use-of-force and filed a wrongful death claim, claiming Vallejo police's decision to open fire on a man still groggy and regaining consciousness was excessive and avoidable.
- "Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou announces retirement – Times-Herald". Times-Herald – Vallejo Times Herald. March 13, 2019. Retrieved April 10, 2019.