VALLEJO – Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell has requested an investigation into the destruction of audio and video records in five police shooting cases that city leaders say were “inadvertently” destroyed.
McConnell made the announcement during Tuesday’s Vallejo City Council meeting, stating that he expects a report from the city attorney’s office “as expeditiously as possible.” The Vallejo Sun first reported earlier this month that the records had been destroyed in early 2021.
In an interview with the Sun on Wednesday, McConnell said the amount of destruction “is not yet fully and truthfully known.”
“Once we truthfully know why and how we will then be in a position to consider whether and/or what policy changes might be considered,” McConnell said.
Assistant City Attorney Katelyn Knight told the Vallejo Sun in a series of emails that the records were destroyed in early 2021 before their destruction was allowed under city policy.
The records destroyed included audio and video records from department investigations into five police shootings during the Vallejo Police Department’s most violent two-year span, when Vallejo officers killed nine people, including six in 2012.
The cases include the killing of Mario Romero by Officers Sean Kenney and Dustin Joseph on Sept. 2, 2012; the fatal shooting of 44-year-old Marshall Tobin by Officers Joseph McCarthy and Robert Kerr on July 4, 2012; the fatal shooting of 42-year-old William Heinze by Officers Dustin Joseph, Ritzie Tolentino and Josh Coleman on March 20, 2013; the fatal shooting of 57-year-old Mohammad Naas by Officer Steve Darden on June 8, 2013; and the injury shooting of Tony Ridgeway by Officer Josh Coleman on Aug, 24, 2013.
McConnell said he was concerned about the situation.
“How could any elected official NOT be concerned with the loss of records on such an important issue?” McConnell said in an email.
Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner didn't immediately respond to questions about McConnell’s comments.
Risner addressed the destruction of records during a special city council workshop on Dec. 6 as the council looked to establish a police oversight model.
“Someone mentioned evidence destroyed by the city attorney. That’s just not true,” Risner told the council. “There is no one in the city attorney’s office that has destroyed any evidence whatsoever. Nothing.”
Risner appeared to make a distinction that no one in the city attorney’s office personally destroyed the records. But evidence destruction logs released by the city indicate that the evidence was destroyed on Jan. 11, Jan. 13 and Jan. 20, 2021, and each item indicates that the city attorney’s office approved their disposal.
The city’s retention schedule requires such records to be retained for five years following closure of the case, which is well short of the 25 years recommended by the state Department of Justice.
The destroyed records were previously secret under state law, but became public records after the state legislature passed SB 1421 in 2018, which made investigations into police shootings public records.
The city received numerous public records requests for any such records once the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but since that time it has struggled to comply with the new law.
Knight said the city would not destroy any further records until its pending public records requests for the material are completed and that the city had taken steps to ensure that no further records are destroyed.
McConnell said the incident motivated him to add a provision to the proposed ordinance establishing police oversight that all audio and video recordings done by an independent investigator or the department’s internal affairs be “maintained by the City for a period of seven (7) years and may not be destroyed or disposed of before the expiration of that time period.”
McConnell said that “human errors occur and will continue to occur.”
“As citizens of Vallejo we look to our professional staff to be professionally competent and find a way to overcome human error to the extent possible,” McConnell added. “Everyone at city hall and in the field departments know that we need to, can, and shall do better. The takeaway is that as a group we concentrate more on how to improve and less on the blame game that is so easy to embrace without even thinking.”
Before you go...
It’s expensive to produce the kind of high-quality journalism we do at the Vallejo Sun. And we rely on reader support so we can keep publishing.
If you enjoy our regular beat reporting, in-depth investigations, and deep-dive podcast episodes, chip in so we can keep doing this work and bringing you the journalism you rely on.
Click here to become a sustaining member of our newsroom.
THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo Police Department
- Robert McConnell
- Katelyn Knight
- Mario Romero
- Sean Kenney
- Dustin Joseph
- Marshall Tobin
- Joseph McCarthy
- Robert Kerr
- William Heinze
- Ritzie Tolentino
- Josh Coleman
- Mohammad Naas
- Steve Darden
- Tony Ridgeway
- Randy Risner
- SB 1421
John Glidden worked as a journalist covering the city of Vallejo for more than 10 years. He left journalism in 2023 and currently works in the office of Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown.
follow me :