Former Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano has been hired by the Vallejo Police Department to investigate allegations that officers marked fatal police shootings by bending the tips of their star-shaped badges. Sonoma County Sheriff's photo.
VALLEJO – An attorney for the city of Vallejo says an outside investigation into allegations that some officers in the department celebrated fatal on-duty shootings by bending the tips of their badges should be completed in less than six weeks.
At a hearing Friday morning, Vallejo assistant city attorney Katelyn Knight told Solano County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Healy that the “underlying investigation is close to being done” and that a final report should be done by mid-September.
“It’s a personnel investigation into alleged misconduct,” Knight said when Healy asked for clarification about the nature of the investigation.
Solano County Deputy Public Defender Nick Filloy accused the city of stalling on finishing the investigation to shield itself from bad publicity or potential lawsuits. Knight assured the judge the investigation was taking so long because its scope was “very, very broad.”
The Vallejo Police Department announced almost exactly a year ago that it had launched an independent, third-party investigation into allegations that some of its officers marked fatal police shootings by bending the tips of their star-shaped badges.
Police Chief Shawny Williams’ announcement last July included mentioning that two sources inside the Police Department confirmed that badge-bending had occurred following media reports of the alleged tradition. So far, police have not yet named any officer who was allegedly involved in the badge-bending.
Now, Filloy wants the city to hand over tapes and transcripts from that investigation, which he claims are intentionally being delayed and kept from the public.
Former Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano, who Williams hired as the outside investigator, said in a May 22, 2021 declaration that there have been delays because some witnesses no longer work for the city or are on medical leave.
“There are still at least a dozen witnesses to be interviewed, or attempted to be interviewed, as well as follow-up interviews. No conclusion or evaluations have been made as of this date,” Giordano wrote in his declaration.
But Filloy said he didn’t believe that explanation. “There’s a desire to keep this investigation going as long as possible to keep these records protected,” Filloy said in court Friday. “I don’t think anyone who has said they don’t want to be interviewed will be interviewed.”
Filloy argued for the release of the investigative files during a hearing for Dominic Milano of Fremont, who is awaiting trial for the alleged attempted murder of Vallejo police Officer Matthew Komoda in November 2018 following a high-speed chase that ended with Komoda shooting Milano in the back of the head.
Speeds during the chase exceeded 120 mph. It went from Vallejo’s Glen Cove neighborhood to East Oakland, where Milano and officers exchanged fire. Vallejo police officers shot towards a school that had students in it at the time. Body camera footage of the incident shows Milano wearing a body armor vest and carrying an assault-style rifle.
It was Komoda’s third shooting in three years. Each followed a vehicle pursuit and two also involved Officer David McLaughlin.
Milano survived the shooting, and appeared in court Friday wearing a white and black striped Solano County Jail prisoner uniform, a blue disposable face mask, and a neatly shaved head. He didn’t speak during the hearing.
Filloy said he wants the investigative interviews to determine if Komoda bent his badge to commemorate those shootings because he also has a “long history of aggressive policing and dishonesty in court.” Filloy alleged that the Vallejo police department’s badge-bending and the culture that surrounds it serves as an “incentive to shoot people.”
Another delay in Milano’s case is that the internal affairs investigation—specifically the critical incident report of the shooting that’s reviewed by superior officers—still has not been completed.
“The pattern of stalling is pervasive in this case,” Filloy said.
Filloy has subpoenaed Giordano, and argued that despite Giordano saying many subjects in the investigation have said they would not be interviewed—including former Capt. John Whitney, who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the department—his invoices for his time and transcribing services showed that some of those interviews have been lengthy.
In its motion to quash Filloy’s subpoena, the city of Vallejo argued the investigative files were protected by Pitchess rules, or those that have historically kept police officer misconduct files under a judge’s seal. It also argued the records didn’t need to be disclosed because the investigation remained open.
But Filloy argued that since the year-long statute of limitations per the California Officers Bill of Rights has long expired, none of the officers involved in the alleged tradition could be disciplined for their actions, thus none of the records were likely to end up in a personnel file.
Healy seemed to agree, scheduling a hearing for Aug. 26 when he would review the files and determine if they should be turned over to the public defender’s office.
Until then, Filloy requested that the city “not destroy or discard any of that information.”
“It would be spectacularly foolish for them to do that,” Healy responded.
There have been several accusations of Vallejo police destroying evidence in the June 2020 shooting of Sean Monterrosa, including a windshield and files on a drone that was reportedly flying over the scene at the time. The California Department of Justice is investigating the destruction of the windshield as well as the criminal portion of the investigation into Monterrosa’s shooting by Detective Jarrett Tonn.
Meanwhile, as the Vallejo Times-Herald reported this week, Michael Rains, an attorney representing the Vallejo Police Officers Association in the badge-bending investigation, says the tradition did exist, but it was instead to celebrate police saving their own lives. He wrote that stories characterizing the bending in response to taking a person’s life are “categorically false.”
Healy summarized Rains’ reading of the alleged badge-bending tradition as some sort of “collegial grieving.”
Filloy, however, called it a “blood death ritual.”