VALLEJO – Officials with the city of Vallejo gathered evidence that police Lt. Michael Nichelini may have committed time card fraud worth tens of thousands of dollars in the spring and summer of 2018, but the department’s chief at the time ignored a recommendation by top commanders and refused to investigate, according to new testimony in a civil suit against the department.
Former Vallejo police Capt. John Whitney testified about the alleged time card fraud in December last year during a deposition in his lawsuit against the city of Vallejo for alleged wrongful termination. Whitney alleges that he was fired in 2019 for blowing the whistle about the city’s badge bending scandal and other misconduct in the department. The city contends that Whitney was fired for erasing information from his city-issued cell phone during an internal affairs investigation.
Whitney alleges that Vallejo police — and particularly former Vallejo police Chief Andrew Bidou — had a pattern of not investigating issues within the department, including use of force and alleged misconduct by officers. Whitney testified that one of the issues he raised was evidence of timecard fraud by Nichelini, the current president of the Vallejo Police Officers Association who was later fired and reinstated.
Nichelini did not respond to a request for comment to his union email address.
According to Whitney, during a department reorganization in 2018, he and Capt. Lee Horton discussed how Nichelini was not working a five-hour shift as scheduled and Lt. Herman Robinson was covering it instead. Two lieutenants would be scheduled, but Robinson was the only one working, Whitney said. Nichelini was vice president of VPOA at the time.
Horton said he had also noticed the pattern, according to Whitney’s testimony, and the two captains asked the city’s finance department to conduct an audit of Nichelini’s working hours and Robinson’s overtime. The audit concluded that up to 300 hours of Nichelini’s work could not be accounted for.
Whitney testified that he and Horton presented their findings to Bidou, who declined to do anything.
“We believed an [internal affairs investigation] should have been conducted for timecard fraud, a significant amount of funds stolen,” Whitney testified. “And the chief, because I was now Nichelini's boss, said, ‘Just talk to him and tell him to stop doing it, and there will be no IA.’”
According to records from Transparent California, which publishes public salary information, Nichelini earned $264,812 in total pay in 2018, including over $41,000 in overtime. At his base pay rate, he would earn about $23,000 in 300 hours. He earned nearly $19,000 less in overtime the following year, and $48,000 less overall.
Nichelini has long been a controversial figure in the department. As union president, Nichelini’s brash public statements have pushed back on negative reporting on the department, criticized journalists, and defended officers’ high rates of force, even publishing differing narratives of events surrounding deadly shootings.
Nichelini was fired in 2021 for two incidents, according to his attorney Michael Rains. The first was for sending an email to VPOA members that contained an image of a Vallejo police badge with what appeared to be a swastika from 1906, long before the Nazis co-opted the symbol. Rains said it was an accident and not done with racist intent.
The second was sending an allegedly threatening email from the union’s email account to then-San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis R. Taylor following his announcement that he was leaving to take a newspaper job in Atlanta in late 2020. Rains disputed that the email was a threat.
An arbitrator overturned the termination decisions in both cases and ordered that Nichelini be reinstated in December.
Nichelini is pursuing a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Vallejo. He originally sought $7.5 million in damages in early March 2021, alleging he was subjected to harassment, retaliation and intimidation by top-ranking Vallejo city officials, including former Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams, Vallejo police’s first Black police chief who resigned suddenly in November.
Nichelini joined the Vallejo Police Department in 2006 after a decade in the Oakland Police Department. He followed his father, Robert Nichelini, who began working in Oakland police in 1971 and left to be Vallejo’s chief in 1995. Robert Nichelini retired in 2012.
Michael Nichelini had a tumultuous tenure in Oakland and was subject to several excessive force allegations.
In December 1999, Nichelini fractured a woman’s shoulder while he was arresting her husband, according to records obtained by the Vallejo Sun through a public records request.
Then an internal affairs investigation sustained two policy violations for an incident when Nichelini responded to a sideshow on Nov. 14, 2004, and recommended that he be placed in a position with minimal citizen contact and that his fitness for duty be evaluated.
Still, when the senior Nichelini was asked about his son’s record in Oakland, the then-Vallejo police chief said it was “perfect.”
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- Vallejo Police Department
- Vallejo Police Officers Association
- Michael Nichelini
- Andrew Bidou
- John Whitney
- Lee Horton
- Herman Robinson
- Robert Nichelini
- Oakland Police Department
- Otis Taylor
- San Francisco Chronicle
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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