VALLEJO – Video released on Monday by the Vallejo Police Department shows Officer Ryan McMahon did not activate his body-worn camera until after he had shot and killed Ronell Foster following a foot pursuit on Feb. 13, 2018.
McMahon had attempted to stop Foster, 33, for riding a bicycle without a headlamp on Sonoma Boulevard near Capitol Street at about 7:40 p.m., according to police. Foster kept riding.
McMahon pursued Foster for a few blocks until Foster got off the bicycle and ran into a backyard. McMahon ran after him. The two got into a struggle on the ground, when McMahon tried to use his Taser on Foster, which was ineffective, and then hit him repeatedly with his flashlight.
According to police, Foster took the flashlight from McMahon’s hands and McMahon shot him.
McMahon did not activate his body camera during the pursuit or before he used his Taser. In fact, he only turned it on after the shooting.
The video starts prior to the shooting because the model of body cameras used by the Vallejo Police Department includes a rolling buffer that captures 30 seconds prior to activation, but without audio.
The first audio on the recording is McMahon calling in shots fired to dispatch.
Civil rights attorney John Burris filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family about six weeks after the shooting. At a news conference to announce the lawsuit, Burris said that Vallejo police had not allowed him or the family to view body camera footage.
“He was brutally gunned down, he was shot in the back of his head, he was shot in the back, killing him on the scene. He was unarmed,” Burris said. “There was no justification for that level of force to be used.”
After Burris’s news conference, Vallejo police Chief Andrew Bidou complained about his characterization of the incident.
“The information provided by Mr. Burris today has the power to undermine the true relationship between the Vallejo community and police,” Bidou said. “Although the investigation into this incident is not complete, the evidence, including the officer body camera video, reveal a different story than what was relayed in Mr. Burris’ press release.”
But the department did not release the video for over a year after.
Since then, McMahon has been involved in another controversial fatal shooting: he was one of six officers who shot and killed 20-year-old Willie McCoy after he was found unconscious in a Taco Bell drive through with a gun in his lap.
Outrage over McCoy’s shooting and other incidents involving Vallejo police officers has prompted the department to invite the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service to improve community engagement.
The Community Relations Service is not an investigatory body and will not make recommendations for policy reforms, instead focusing on ways to improve communication and understanding.
But Vallejo has the highest rate of police shootings in the region. Other departments have taken on reform efforts in an effort to reduce shootings.
In Oakland, there have been far fewer shootings by police officers in the last few years than there have been historically, including none in 2016 and none so far this year.
At a Dec. 2, 2014, Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, then-police Chief Sean Whent attributed this partly to a policy change that would have advised McMahon not to chase Foster into a backyard.
“We changed foot pursuit policy, we changed the circumstances in which we engage in foot pursuits and where we stop chasing people instead of chasing them into a back yard,” Whent said. “Instead surround the yard and tactically go in and arrest the person as opposed to just one officer chasing somebody into the backyard by them self, and that has resulted in a reduction of uses of force.”
Vallejo police said that the release of the body camera video marked the conclusion of the investigation into McMahon, which will now be reviewed by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office. It remains unclear whether McMahon could face criminal charges or discipline.
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Scott Morris is a journalist based in Oakland who covers policing, protest, civil rights and far-right extremism. His work has been published in ProPublica, the Appeal and Oaklandside.
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