VALLEJO – On the same day a former Vallejo police lieutenant testified in court that he bent his colleagues’ badges to mark their participation in on-duty shootings, the city council approved an outreach plan seeking community input about the future oversight of the Vallejo Police Department.
Through consensus, the council signed off Tuesday on a nearly three-month plan to solicit recommendations from the Vallejo community on which independent oversight model will work best to help reform the beleaguered department.
“Those revelations today [in] superior court about the extent of badge bending really drives home the point to have this community oversight,” said Councilmember Cristina Arriola, District 6. “I hope that we can do something to really make it impactful and meaningful so that we don’t ever have to have this conversation again.”
Former Vallejo Police Lt. Michael Kent Tribble testified Tuesday in Solano County Superior Court that when he worked for Concord police, he and another officer came up with the idea for officers to bend their badges following a shooting. Joining Vallejo police in 2003, Tribble said he bent the badges of at least six Vallejo police officers after they were involved in shootings during his time with the department. Tribble retired from Vallejo police last year.
City Attorney Veronica Nebb explained the city’s proposed timeline in coming up with an oversight model. She said by the end of this month the city would have a matrix describing the various oversight models and launch a webpage where the public can provide written input and access documents.
That will be followed by city staff hosting community input meetings in each of the six city council districts in April and May. The council is expected to approve an ordinance establishing an oversight model in June.
Nebb said the city council has made a “commitment to our ongoing police reform efforts.”
“We heard the public, relative to this issue, we also heard that this is where the rubber, of that commitment, hits the road for most of you, including impacted families, as well as the community as a whole,” said Nebb, who also mentioned that Vallejo police will be involved in the process as well.
Nebb said the idea is not to present an oversight model before getting input from the community, saying the city doesn't want to influence the process. She said the city is looking to hire a facilitator to lead the community forums.
“We realize that the community has waited a long time for this to come to the floor and come out into community meetings,” Nebb said.
Common Ground, a non-partisan group of religious and non-profit organizations in Solano and Napa counties, backs a police commission oversight model. The group has been working with Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga, District 1, and Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3.
Renee Sykes, a member of the Common Ground Public Safety committee, said the group has been working on the oversight model for two years and has drafted an ordinance that would create a police commission with the power to fire the police chief and draft proposed departmental policy subject to final approval by the city council.
Sykes, who is also a member of Shawny Williams’ chief advisory board, said it’s important to have transparency and community involvement. She further said the ordinance creating a commission was “done out of love and desire to see change in the city where mistrust of city government and law enforcement is prevalent.”
Loera-Diaz said police oversight was one of the reasons why she ran for city council. “If there was ever a time things were getting done, it’s now,” she said.
Loera-Diaz stressed that she’d like to see a police commission with members who can be fair and unbiased and make concise recommendations to the council.
“I don’t want folks that are just one-sided, I want people that are open minded, and can digest the information and have the guts to move forward with whatever needs to be done,” she added.
The first-term councilmember also asked the community to get involved with the process.
“This is a project that we have to do together,” she said. “Otherwise it’s not going to work. But we are doing something.”
Several other public speakers said they supported having police oversight, especially after learning more about the badge bending ritual from reports of courtroom testimony.
“It’s clear, we need police oversight. The worry of the community is that it will be an empty gesture,” said Andrea Sorce, co-chair of the new Solano chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Sorce noted that the department has killed 19 people since 2010. She also called out Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams, who told ABC7 News in February that her office doesn’t “chase rumors” when asked why she wasn’t conducting an investigation into badge bending. An attorney for the city said in court Tuesday that the DA’s office had been provided with a copy of the city’s outside investigation into badge-bending.
“It is fact, even if our district attorney would like to call it ‘rumors,’ it's a fact,” Sorce said.
She said the oversight process shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the city shouldn’t follow a cookie cutter approach. Impacted families need to be included in the process.
“If you’re an impacted family, you are interfacing with a police department who celebrated the murder of your loved one,” Sorce said.
Meanwhile, resident Melissa Swift called out the city leadership for not releasing a 150-page report completed by former Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano about the ritual. The report was completed in September, but the city has refused to release it, claiming it is an officer personnel record and exempt from public disclosure.
Swift said former Mayor Bob Sampayan, former City Manager Greg Nyhoff, and Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams were all aware of badge bending “and actively concealed that information from both city council and the community.”
“That cover up continues to this today, as both Nebb and (interim City Manager Mike) Malone continue to block the release of the investigation so that you, council, and we, the community, can learn exactly what is contained in that 150-page report.”
Swift also called out the city attorney's office, including Assistant City Attorney Katelyn Knight for saying in court that the council didn’t have a “legitimate need” to see the report.
Nebb did address the status of the badge bending toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
“To the extent that we can provide to the council an update, we will provide that to the council,” Nebb said.
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