The Vallejo Police Department, already under scrutiny for a series of fatal shootings, is now facing shocking allegations from a former captain, reports Open Vallejo.
John Whitney, a former SWAT commander, says he learned in 2019 of the existence of a secret fellowship within the department. According to Whitney, some police officers who killed someone in the line of duty were thrown a barbecue and initiated into a kind of club by bending one of the points of their badge to commemorate the killing.
Whitney says he was fired after he began probing the alleged misconduct. He filed a retaliation claim in February which went unanswered by the city, meaning Whitney is now free to file a lawsuit. His lawyer indicated to the San Francisco Chronicle that he plans to do so.
Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell told The Chronicle that the city is aware of Whitney's claims and investigated them last year.
"In conferring this evening with the City Manager, he noted that the Mayor had advised him last year regarding rumors of such a prior practice in years past at the Police Dept., and that he, the City Manager, then immediately consulted with former Police Chief (Andrew) Bidou, who indicated it had been previously investigated and such claims had not been substantiated," Cardwell said.
An Open Vallejo investigation found three men, Sean Kenney, Joe McCarthy and Steve Darden, accounted for almost a third of Vallejo's 30 fatal police shootings over the past two decades. Kenney denied manipulating his badge when contacted by Open Vallejo, which says it reviewed images that show his badge tips bent.
In addition to Whitney's allegations that some officers glorified violence against civilians, he claims former Police Chief Andrew Bidou told him to delete text messages related to the case of kidnap victim Denise Huskins. In 2015, Huskins was taken from her boyfriend's Vallejo residence and held captive for days. Vallejo police accused Huskins of staging the kidnapping, going so far as to hold a press conference to denounce her. Matthew Muller was later convicted on federal kidnapping charges, and the city ended up paying Huskins and her partner a $2.5 million settlement.
Whitney also claimed Bidou told a Vallejo Police Department spokesperson to "burn that bitch" in reference to Huskins.
Bidou retired from the department last year and now works for PG&E.
In June, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced his office is partnering with the city and Vallejo police to "modernize and reform VPD's policies and practices and increase public trust."
"This review and reform agreement we announce today with the City of Vallejo represents a critical step the Vallejo Police Department must take to build trust with people who have lost faith in them" Becerra said in a statement at the time of the announcement.
The California Department of Justice also has an open investigation into the June 2 killing of Sean Monterrosa, who was shot by a Vallejo police officer. The investigation was prompted by allegations that the police department destroyed evidence relating to the case.
"Some days I feel like I work with a bunch of thugs who take pleasure out of hurting people," an anonymous department employee told Open Vallejo.
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