Willie McCoy sat asleep in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru the night of Feb. 9, a handgun in his lap. Minutes later, the aspiring rapper was dead, fired upon by six police officers called to the scene to check on him.
Officials with the Vallejo Police Department on Friday released about 30 minutes of footage from the officers’ body cameras, along with audio from the 911 call that brought them to the scene that night. Officers stated they fired their weapons when McCoy, 20, awoke and, as they demanded he keep his hands in view, reached for his gun.
The footage was released amid pressure from a group called Open Vallejo, as well as pressure from McCoy’s family, who, with their lawyer, had already viewed some of the footage.
The family’s lawyer told The New York Times last month that McCoy, a 20-year-old local rapper known as Willie Bo, was “riddled with bullets” when officers opened fire. Attorney Melissa Nold told the newspaper his body, which she viewed herself, appeared to have suffered about 25 gunshot wounds.
“It was just very, very disturbing,” Nold told the Times. “It was really a shock how many times he was actually struck.”
David Harrison, a cousin who also saw McCoy’s body after the shooting, expressed similar statements.
“Willie was shot a whole lot of times,” he said. “Our belief is that Willie was executed, like a firing squad.”
Nold told the Times on Sunday that the footage appeared to confirm the McCoy family’s fears. She said a federal civil rights lawsuit would be filed on McCoy’s behalf.
“Based on the videos, it looks like the officers violated basic safety principles and made no real efforts to preserve human life,” Nold told the Times.
McCoy’s family, who is also represented by civil rights attorney John Burris, has filed a wrongful death claim against the Vallejo Police Department, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
Vallejo police officials said in a statement Friday that the “informational video,” which also included audio from dispatchers to the responding officers, was being released to provide “sufficient context for the community to understand the facts of this incident.”
The video includes raw footage from the officers’ body cameras but stops prior to the more graphic footage of the officers attempting to help McCoy after shooting him.
“To respect the privacy of the decedent and his family, we are withholding the portions of the videos showing officers rendering medical aid,” the statement reads.
The shooting remains under investigation in accordance with Solano County’s fatal incident protocol, authorities said.
“Once the investigation is complete, the Solano County District Attorney’s Office will make their final determination,” the statement reads.
The officers, who have been identified as Ryan McMahon, Colin Eaton, Bryan Glick, Jordon Patzer, Anthony Romero-Cano and Mark Thompson, were placed on administrative leave immediately after the shooting but have since been cleared to return to regular duty, police officials said. Each had to meet with a psychologist before returning to duty.
With the exception of Thompson, a 12-year veteran, and Glick, a four-year veteran, all of the officers have been on the force for 18 months or fewer. McMahon and Eaton have been officers for 18 months and both Patzer and Romero-Cano have been on the force for seven months each.
Watch the body camera footage released by the Vallejo Police Department below. Warning: The footage is graphic and includes strong language.
The Mercury News reported that McMahon was involved in a fatal shooting a year almost to the day before McCoy’s slaying. McMahon pulled over Ronnell Foster, 33, who was riding a bicycle, though it was not clear why Foster was pulled over.
Police officials said Foster ran away after being pulled over and he and McMahon ended up in a violent struggle in which Foster took the officer’s flashlight and “exhibited it in a threatening manner,” the News reported. McMahon subsequently shot and killed Foster, whose family has filed a federal lawsuit.
According to the Chronicle, the lawsuit accuses McMahon of lying about the flashlight and shooting Foster in the back of the head.
‘I have no idea what is going on’
The night of McCoy’s slaying, dispatchers at the Vallejo Police Department received a 911 call around 10:36 p.m. from an employee at the Taco Bell.
“I have a person unresponsive to car horn honks in my drive-thru,” the man says in the audio of the call.
He describes McCoy’s silver Mercedes and tells the dispatcher he cannot see the license plate.
“He’s unresponsive. I’ve already had, like, people try to knock on the window. I have no idea what’s going on,” the man says.
The dispatcher tells him she will get someone to the restaurant to check on the man, and the call ends. A different dispatcher is heard over the police radio, asking officers to go to the Taco Bell for a “welfare check” on a driver slumped over at the steering wheel of his car.
The video released by police officials indicates 11 minutes elapsed between the time the 911 call ended and when the first responding officer spotted McCoy’s gun on his lap. The dispatch audio includes when an officer at the scene reports to the dispatcher that the driver has a gun in his lap.
He asks to go “Code 33,” which means to clear the channel of all but emergency traffic.
The video moves to the body camera footage from an officer looking into McCoy’s driver’s side window, through which he spots the weapon.
“Gun, gun, gun,” he alerts a second officer as he pulls his weapon from its holster. The second officer, who is approaching McCoy’s car from behind, does the same.
“Call it out. There’s a gun in his lap,” the officer says.
The two officers are heard trying to formulate a plan to disarm McCoy. The first officer says the car door appears to be unlocked -- they would later find out it wasn’t.
“I’m gonna pull him out and snatch his (expletive),” the officer on the driver’s side says.
The officers ensure no one is in the back seat of the vehicle and the first officer says it appears the magazine of McCoy’s gun was out.
“The magazine’s out, so if he shoots, he’s only got one shot,” the officer says.
Investigators later determined that the gun, a .40-caliber semiautomatic previously reported stolen in Oregon, was loaded with a 14-round clip that extended past the gun’s grip, making it appear the magazine was out, authorities said.
The officers in the video plan for one of them to open the door and grab McCoy’s gun while the other “snatches” McCoy from the car.
“If he reaches for it,” one officer says, nodding at his colleague.
“Yep,” the other officer says.
The green arrow points to where Vallejo, California, police officials allege Willie McCoy, 20, is reaching for a gun in his lap as as he sits in his silver Mercedes in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell the night of Feb. 9, 2019. Six officers opened fire on McCoy, an aspiring rapper, moments after McCoy, who had fallen asleep at the wheel, awoke and started moving.Vallejo Police Department
The officers find that the car door is locked and the car’s transmission is in drive.
They call additional officers to the scene, at which point they begin to position patrol cars up against McCoy’s front and back bumpers so he cannot move the car if he awakens.
As they do so, McCoy is seen on one body camera reaching his right hand to his left shoulder and scratching it, apparently in his sleep. The officer right outside his window remarks that he is moving.
“He’s moving, he’s moving,” the officer says. “He’s not up yet.”
The body camera footage is then played in slow motion, with captions stating that officers began giving McCoy verbal commands to show his hands. Awake now, he is seen bending forward at the waist.
Though the footage is unclear, the caption states, “Left hand reaches to gun on lap, officers fire.” At one point, the footage is stopped and a green arrow points to McCoy’s left arm, which appears to be moving. Officers alleged it was moving toward the gun.
The audio of the footage comes back on as officers scream at McCoy to show his hands. Their orders are swallowed moments later by the deafening roar of gunfire from all six officers.
It took under four seconds for the fatal shooting to take place from beginning to end, authorities said.
“Cease fire! Cease fire!” one officer screams as the gunfire ends, smoke from the six weapons clouding the air. An officer can be heard calling for medical aid.
As the officers continue screaming at McCoy to show his hands, fluttering movements can be seen inside the Mercedes as he sits, dying.
“He’s moving, he’s non-responsive,” one officer says.
The initial footage ends as an officer reaches into the shattered driver’s side window to unlock and open the door.
The footage starts over, showing a simultaneous, six-panel view of the camera footage from all six officers who responded to the scene that night. It then shows, full-screen, the body camera footage of each officer.
In multiple officers’ camera footage, McCoy is shown asleep in his car until just seconds before the officers fired their weapons. He is seen bolting upright in his seat and leaning forward, but in none of the angles can it be seen if he is reaching for his gun.
In a statement read at the start of the 30-minute video, a police official states that body cameras do not always reflect what officers’ eyes are seeing.
“First, the camera can be up to 12 inches lower down the officer’s body than their eyes, impacting the visual angles of what the officer may see versus what the camera may see,” according to the statement. “Second, while the camera stays fixed pointing forward on the officer’s body, the officer can be looking around with their eyes or turn their head.
“Therefore, body cameras show you what is going on generally. They do not show you what the officer is seeing or responding to directly.”
‘They woke him up with gunfire’
Harrison, McCoy’s cousin, said last month that he didn’t believe a locked door would have kept the officers from safely resolving the situation. He said a window on McCoy’s Mercedes was broken and covered in plastic.
“They woke him up with gunfire,” Harrison told the Times.
The body camera footage shows the officers did not shoot until after McCoy was awake, but a Vallejo Police Department webpage dedicated to answering questions and providing updates about the controversial shooting confirms the front passenger side window of McCoy’s car was covered by plastic.
“The front passenger side window was covered with plastic material with taping around the frame of the window,” a statement on the page says. “The administrative investigation will look into whether the passenger window presented a viable entry option, and if so, whether that option was tactically sound.”
Peter Bibring, police practices director of the ACLU of California, said after McCoy’s death that police officers must exercise more restraint in their use of deadly force.
“Police officers must use deadly force judiciously, with respect for human rights, with a belief in the sanctity of all human life, and only when absolutely necessary,” Bibring said in a statement. “While this seems like a common-sense standard, it isn’t the current practice in California. Instead of requiring that officers avoid using deadly force whenever possible, current law allows police officers to use deadly force and take someone’s life even when officers have other options.
“This permissive approach continues to result in far too many people -- especially people of color -- ending up dead at the hands of police.”
McCoy’s role, if any, in the Oregon theft of the handgun that police officials said he was carrying when he died is unclear. The police department’s page on the shooting includes information confirming that McCoy was found to have multiple firearms in his Oakland home in April 2018 after he became a suspect in a human trafficking case out of San Francisco.
In the April 8 incident, a 19-year-old woman told San Francisco investigators she was forced into a car occupied by multiple people and driven to Santa Clara County, where she escaped. McCoy was identified as the suspect in the case and a search warrant executed at the home where he was living turned up multiple firearms, according to San Francisco police officials.
McCoy was jailed on firearms violations the day of the alleged kidnapping and was subsequently bailed out, authorities said.
The department’s Special Victims Unit obtained warrants for kidnapping, threats and human trafficking and, around 3:23 a.m., pulled McCoy over in a traffic stop and arrested him on those charges.
According to police, the car he was driving at the time of that arrest was his silver Mercedes, in which he ultimately died.
Open Vallejo, the group that submitted the open records request for the body camera footage, pointed out last week that, while Vallejo police officials reported McCoy’s 2018 arrest to the public, they failed to point out that the charges against him were dismissed.
On 2/25, we asked for records relating to @CityofVallejo's official information page about #WillieMcCoy’s death. The page references a 2018 arrest without noting that charges were dropped. We wanted to know how this decision was made. Here is the city’s response in its entirety. pic.twitter.com/3dD2smFHZM— Open Vallejo (@OpenVallejo) March 28, 2019
NBC News confirmed that the human trafficking and kidnapping charges were dropped the month after they were filed. McCoy’s attorney, Tim Pori, told the network the woman’s claims against his client were “fabricated and blown out of proportion.”
“I liked the kid ... and he was telling the truth,” Pori said, pointing out that prosecutors “don’t normally dismiss charges like that.”
McCoy bounced back, recording a song, “I’m Fresh Out,” about the experience. Click here to watch McCoy’s video.
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