, May 23, 2022

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Vallejo fights disclosure of badge-bending records in criminal court

  •   3 min reads
Vallejo fights disclosure of badge-bending records in criminal court
The Solano County Justice Center in Vallejo.

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorneys for the city of Vallejo are seeking to reverse a judge’s orders that the city must turn over materials relating to allegations that officers bent the tips of their badges to mark fatal shootings, despite saying that the investigation would be complete by mid-September.

Judge Daniel Healy had ordered that the city produce records under seal to the Solano County Public Defender’s Office relevant to the city’s badge-bending investigation in a criminal case against a man who was shot by a Vallejo police officer during an exchange of gunfire near an Oakland school three years ago. California courts allow defense attorneys to review confidential personnel records that may be relevant to their defense.

But the city petitioned the California 1st District Court of Appeal Tuesday to issue a stay blocking Healy’s order for the city to produce transcripts of statements from four Vallejo police officers. The court granted the stay on Thursday.

The badge-bending practice was revealed by former Vallejo police Capt. John Whitney after he was fired in 2019. Days after Whitney’s allegations became public, the city confirmed the practice to a public relations firm, naming at least one officer who was involved. Whitney sued the city for wrongful termination in December, arguing he was fired for reporting misconduct.

The city hired former Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano in August 2020 to conduct an investigation. When police Chief Shawny Williams announced an outside investigation, the department said it would take “several months to complete.” More than a year later, the city has not disclosed the results of the investigation. City officials did not respond to questions from the Vallejo Sun about its status.

Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, any involved officers may not face discipline because under the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights, police officers must be disciplined within a year of discovery of the incident, though there are exceptions if the investigation involves multiple officers or coordination between multiple agencies.

The public defender sought records relating to the badge bending investigation in the criminal case against Dominic Milano, who is charged with attempted murder, unlawful possession of a firearm and evading police during a vehicle pursuit.

Prosecutors allege that Milano was parked in front of his cousin’s Vallejo home with a handgun and a duffle bag full of assault rifles on Nov. 1, 2018. When police tried to contact him, he fled to Oakland, where he allegedly exchanged gunfire with Vallejo police Officer Matt Komoda and other Vallejo officers. Milano was shot in the head but survived. The shooting was Komoda’s third in three years.

As part of his defense, Solano County Deputy Public Defender Nick Filloy sought access to personnel records for Komoda and two other Vallejo police officers as well as any records relating to allegations of badge bending in the department. The city opposed Filloy’s motion, but Judge Healy agreed to review the records himself.

The city, however, did not produce the badge-bending records and indicated that Giordano’s investigation was ongoing. Filloy then subpoenaed Giordano, who said his investigation was delayed because he was unable to interview certain witnesses. During a hearing in July, an attorney for the city indicated that the investigation would conclude in mid-September.

According to the city’s filing, Healy said that he did not know if the badge-bending investigation underway would be a cultural assessment, something that would be made public, or a personnel investigation into the involved officers. But the city argued that it was a personnel investigation and should remain confidential indefinitely. After Healy reviewed records and questioned Giordano, he ordered the city to produce records relating to badge-bending.

Any records released to Milano’s attorney would remain under a protective order and would not be publicly released. But the city’s filing in the appeals court seeks to prevent even that limited disclosure and will delay even further the criminal case against Milano, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Milano’s attorney must file an opposition to the city’s appeals court petition by Nov. 18.

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