, August 09, 2022

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Records show Vallejo police paid for repaired or replacement badges for officers in shootings


  •   12 min reads
Records show Vallejo police paid for repaired or replacement badges for officers in shootings
An invoice for refurbishment of a Vallejo police badge to "straighten the point above 'E' in Vallejo," one of nearly 1,200 pages of records obtained by the Vallejo Sun.

VALLEJO – A Vallejo police officer who shot and killed a man in 2011 obtained a refurbished badge from the manufacturer in 2017, instructing the Berkeley-based badge-maker to straighten the point above “E” in Vallejo, and billed the repair to the police department, according to records obtained by the Vallejo Sun.

The Sun reviewed nearly 1,200 pages of invoices and emails from the Ed Jones Co. that also show that other officers who had been involved in shootings later obtained cheap replacement chrome badges instead of their standard sterling silver badges. Most of the invoices were billed directly to the Vallejo Police Department.

The invoices show that officers may have obtained the refurbished or replacement badges in an effort to obscure a tradition of some officers bending the tips of their star-shaped badges to mark on-duty shootings years before it was made public. Recent court testimony indicates that badge bending was known to police command staff as early as 2016, but it was not revealed publicly until 2020, when a fired police captain disclosed it in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Former Lt. Kent Tribble recently testified that he started bending his fellow officer’s badges when he joined Vallejo police from Concord in 2003 and typically would bend those badges at a bar across the street from Vallejo police headquarters on Amador Street shortly after a shooting. Tribble said that he considered it a way to help officers feel better after a traumatic incident and to recognize that they had handled themselves professionally. “I think it was a way to signify the fact that we would stand up and do our job,” Tribble testified.

The badge-maker’s records that the Sun reviewed could have offered numerous potential avenues of inquiry for the department’s internal investigation. But former Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano, whom the city hired to conduct that investigation, testified in March that he did not pursue the badge-maker’s records. Instead, Giordano testified, he sought records of individual officers buying badges but never actually saw an invoice from the badge-maker.

“Problem we ran into is the badge company didn't have records of that. So, Vallejo PD invoicing for badges really doesn't mean anything because they buy badges all the time,” Giordano testified in Solano County Superior Court on March 23.

Giordano completed his investigation last September and submitted a 150-page report to the city. But the city has refused to release it, arguing it is a confidential personnel record and not subject to public records laws. Vallejo police did not respond to questions about the badge-maker’s records.

In the badge-maker’s records reviewed by the Sun, the only example of an officer seeking to have the tip straightened was by Vallejo police Officer Waylon Boyce, who submitted his badge to “straighten point above ‘E’ in Vallejo” on April 6, 2017.

Vallejo police Officer Waylon Boyce in 2013. Photo: Vallejo Police Department.

Boyce — who has since been promoted to a Vallejo police sergeant — has not been named as an officer involved in badge bending in any public disclosure to date. He left the Oakland Police Department in 2005 to join Vallejo police as  badge No. 600. He was one of eight officers who fired their weapons on Feb. 11, 2011, killing Sherman Peacock. The other Vallejo officers who fired were Steve Darden, Kenny Park, Jason Scott, Robert Kerr, Felipe Hernandez, Brian Estudillo and Todd Tribble.

Todd Tribble —the brother of Kent Tribble — also joined Vallejo police from Concord in 2003. While Kent Tribble did not name his brother in his testimony, another former Vallejo officer testified that Kent Tribble told him that the brothers had originated the tradition together, and only they could bend someone’s badge. Todd Tribble recently retired from the department as a captain.

Boyce was also present when then-Vallejo Police Officer Sean Kenney shot and killed Anton Pat Barrett on May 28, 2012.

According to a lawsuit filed by Barrett’s family, Kenney and other Vallejo police officers had pursued Barrett’s son, Anton Frank Barrett, because they suspected him to be driving under the influence. When the younger Barrett stopped in an apartment complex, both father and son ran from the car.

Kenney shot and killed the elder Barrett. He later said that he thought the man had a gun but he only had a cellphone and a metallic wallet. The younger Barrett hid behind some bushes. Boyce and Officer Mark Thompson arrived and Thompson deployed his police dog, which mauled the younger Barrett, according to the lawsuit. Boyce then handcuffed the younger Barrett and held his head down with his knee while questioning him while Thompson continued to allow the dog to bite him, the lawsuit states.

The city settled the lawsuit for $235,000 in 2015. Despite this, Boyce received a medal of merit in 2019 and was recently promoted to sergeant, part of a pattern of officers who were involved in allegations of civil rights violations being rewarded in the department.

Kenney went on to kill two other people within five months in 2012: Mario Romero on Sept. 2 and Jeremiah Moore on Oct. 21. He was one of three officers who sought a replacement chrome badge on a single invoice on April 16, 2013.

The other two badges on that invoice were for Jason Bauer and Jeremy Huff, who had also been involved in shootings in the previous year. Bauer and Officer Joseph McCarthy shot and killed 53-year-old Peter Mestler on May 24, 2012; Huff and Officer Kevin Bartlett shot and killed 17-year-old Jared Huey on June 30, 2012.

Kenney left the department in 2018, founded a consulting business, Line Driven Strategies, and now works as a senior operations manager for Amazon, according to his Linkedin profile.

Bauer and Huff remain Vallejo police officers.

The badge-maker’s records obtained by the Sun include badge orders dating back to 2011. Of hundreds of orders billed to the department, only 12 were for the cheaper chrome version of the badges, which sell for a fraction of the cost of the typical sterling silver badges. Of the 12 officers who ordered chrome badges through the department, eight had shot at someone on duty. Records indicate that at least one additional officer ordered a chrome badge that was invoiced to him directly.

The first chrome badge order was invoiced by the Ed Jones Co. on May 25, 2012. The badges were for Officer Jeff Tai and Officer Terry Poyser. There is no record of Tai having fired his weapon, but Poyser fatally shot Eric Waters on Feb. 8, 2009, along with officers Jason Scott, Eric Jensen and Robert Greenberg. According to court transcripts, Poyser later bent the badge of Officer Zach Jacobsen, who killed Angel Ramos in 2017. Poyser retired in 2020.

Vallejo police Detective Terry Poyser.
Vallejo police Detective Terry Poyser. Court transcripts indicate that Poyser bent the badge of Officer Zach Jacobsen after he killed Angel Ramos in 2017. Photo: Vallejo Police Department.

Scott also ordered a chrome badge, which the Ed Jones Co. invoiced Vallejo police on Oct. 24, 2013. Scott left Vallejo police last year and is now an investigator with the Solano County District Attorney’s Office.

On May 25, 2015, the Ed Jones Co. sent the department an invoice for a chrome badge for Officer James Melville. Records show that Melville had fired his weapon four times by then, killing three people, and was also involved in a fatal Taser incident in 2010. Melville left the department in 2018.

On Nov. 2, 2015, the department was invoiced for a chrome badge for then-Corporal Dustin Joseph. Joseph fired at Mario Romero in 2012 with Kenney. Joseph also shot and killed William Heinze along with officers Ritzie Tolentino and Josh Coleman in 2013. Coleman recently testified that after the Heinze shooting, Tribble bent his badge at the Relay Club, the bar across the street from Vallejo police headquarters, while Joseph was present. Joseph has since joined the Fairfield Police Department, while Coleman is now a Napa County sheriff’s deputy.

On April 13, 2016, the department was invoiced for a chrome badge for Boyce, who had the tip of his silver badge repaired the following year.

Then-Sgt. Robert Knight also requested a chrome badge in an email on May 11, 2016: “I was inquiring about your less expensive ‘chrome’ badges. I was looking for a replica badge to wear on my belt in an undercover capacity so that I don't have to lug around my beautiful sergeant's badge,” Knight wrote. “I just need it for identification as a peace officer and don't want to scratch up the real thing.”

A subsequent email from the then-executive secretary to the police chief indicates that the badge was invoiced to Knight directly. Knight was never involved in a shooting, but on Jan. 9, 2005, he was involved in an incident with officers Brent Bucci, Robert McKay and Jeremie Patzer, where Otis McPeters was killed. A letter from the district attorney’s office clearing the officers of criminal charges does not specify the circumstances of McPeters’ death, but his family said the 52-year-old was beaten to death during a traffic stop. Knight has since been promoted to lieutenant and works in the patrol division.

Department administrators first tried to end badge-bending in 2016. Kent Tribble testified that shortly after he was promoted to lieutenant, Capt. Lee Horton said to him, “What’s wrong with your badge?” and “I know what that is, and I don’t want to see it again.”

Tribble said he was confused because he was wearing his lieutenant’s badge, which was not bent, but he realized that Horton was probably telling him to end the tradition of badge bending. Even so, he testified he took no action after Horton’s warning.

But Coleman testified that Kent Tribble approached him in 2016 and told him, “They know about the badges,” and instructed Coleman to fix his. Coleman said he had already bent his badge tip back by that point, but it was permanently damaged.

Only one chrome badge for a specific officer was billed to the department after 2016, according to the badge company’s records. It was for Officer Brad Phillips in 2019. There is no record of Phillips having fired his weapon.

The department only cracked down on badge-bending following the fatal shooting of Willie McCoy on Feb. 9, 2019, when six officers fired 55 times at McCoy as he awoke after being unresponsive in a Taco Bell drive-thru.

Shortly after the killing, the department became aware that one of the officers who fired his weapon, Ryan McMahon, had added a plate to his gun with the words “Veritas” and “Aequitas," meaning “truth and justice,” a reference to the 1999 film Boondock Saints where two brothers engage in vigilante justice. The department launched an investigation.

When McMahon turned in his badge, Capt. John Whitney found two bent tips, which McMahon told him signified the two people he had killed. The first was Ronell Foster, whom McMahon had beaten, Tased and shot in the back of his head the night of Feb. 13, 2018.

Whitney took McMahon’s badge to then-police Chief Andrew Bidou who said that he would “handle it,” according to an email to a PR firm by then-interim assistant police chief Joe Allio. Allio wrote that Bidou had already heard of badge bending by then and told a sergeant in internal affairs about it, but no internal affairs case was ever opened.

Whitney ordered all department supervisors to inspect officers’ uniforms and collect bent badges. They allegedly found about 10 badges with bent tips. Whitney said that he brought his concerns to then-City Manager Greg Nyhoff, then-City Attorney Claudia Quintana and then-Mayor Bob Sampayan, a retired police sergeant who later said he was aware of badge-bending. Still, no investigation was initiated.

Bidou moved to fire Whitney on Aug. 26, 2019. Whitney publicly disclosed badge bending in 2020 and filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

After Whitney’s revelations, the department faced a highly public scandal covered by national news outlets. To conduct the investigation, Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams hired Giordano, who retired from law enforcement after serving as the sheriff of Sonoma County and now completes internal investigations for police departments.

Former Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano arrives in court
Former Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano arrives in court to testify about his investigation into Vallejo police badge bending on March 23, 2022. Photo: Brian Krans.

Giordano’s investigation relied heavily on interviews with officers suspected of bending their badges, some of whom recently testified that they were unwilling “victims” of the tradition. Most allegedly said they were able to fix their badges on their own. “I never had anyone tell me they bought a new badge,” Giordano testified in March.

Giordano and several current and former Vallejo police officers were called to testify in Solano County Superior Court as part of a criminal case against Dominic Milano, a Fremont man Vallejo police chased into Oakland in 2018 and shot several times in front of a school with children inside at the time. Carrying an assault rifle and wearing body armor, Milano survived being shot, including in the back of the head.

Milano faces attempted murder and other charges for allegedly shooting at Vallejo Police Corporal Matthew Komoda. Komoda returned fire, which was his third shooting in three years. Kent Tribble bent Komoda’s badge following a shooting in 2016, according to court testimony.

Questioned by Deputy Solano County Public Defender Nick Filloy — who characterized Vallejo’s badge-bending tradition as an “incentive to shoot people” and a “blood death ritual” — Giordano testified to how limited his search was for documentation of interactions between the Ed Jones Co. and the Vallejo Police Department. He said he didn’t look for records for badge orders from the department but rather individual officers seeking replacements or to get their bent badges fixed.

“When you began this investigation, was the Vallejo Police Department not in possession of all of the invoices for the Ed Jones Co. from prior years?” Filloy asked Giordano.

‘“I don't know,” Giordano replied. “It wasn't relevant what the Vallejo Police Department bought. What was relevant was what an individual officer bought.”

Instead, Giordano said the new owners of Ed Jones, which was sold last year, provided him with a spreadsheet for invoices that contained dates and dollar amounts, not anything relevant, like badge number.

“We don't know who they're for, what numbers they are, so it didn't help us with what we were trying to do,” Giordano testified, later saying the “lead” on records from the badge company “deteriorated.”

“Have you ever actually seen one of the Ed Jones Co.'s invoices?” Filloy asked Giordano.

“No,” Giordano replied.

“Are you aware that the invoices contain the badge number?”

“I am not,” Giordano said.

Giordano testified that invoices between Vallejo police and the Ed Jones Co. were irrelevant to his investigation because “Nobody who bent their badge took it to their boss and had it repaired by them.”

As the records show in the case of Boyce, that wasn’t true. Filloy questioned Giordano about that without mentioning Boyce’s name in March.

“So, say there was a badge refurbishment invoice says, refurbish badge X, badge number, and in the notes on the invoice it says, straighten the point over the ‘E’ in ‘Vallejo,’ would that have been a document that you think would have been relevant in your investigation?” Filloy asked.

“Well, it could be,” Giordano replied.

Tuesday evening, during a Vallejo City Council meeting, Filloy issued a harsh criticism of Giordano being paid $100,000 of taxpayer money to investigate badge bending. Filloy recounted the interaction he had with Giordano on the witness stand to the council and handed them a flash drive that he said contained the records of invoices the Ed Jones Co. sent to the Vallejo Police Department.

Filloy said Giordano’s reasoning why he didn’t request invoices from the Ed Jones Co. and the Vallejo Police Department was presumptive.

“His explanation was that he thought the police officers would be smarter than to leave a paper trail within the department,” Filloy told the council. “I regret to inform you that his estimation of the sophistication of these officers was rather high.”

Following Giordano’s testimony four months ago, Solano County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Healy — who had access to  Giordano’s final report and described badge-bending as a “notch in the belt” in a department with a “Wild West” culture —  said Giordano’s investigation had “no value.”

Healy said he didn’t find Giordano’s investigation “to be thorough” or “designed to serve the needs of the community,” but rather, he said the report contains “gossip” from inside the department and reflects an investigation that was “seeking to thread some needle to satisfy various entities in a way that minimized blow back, certainly not designed to bring light.”

“It's an odd report,” Healy said. “It's an odd thing.”

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