February 9th is a particularly hard day for the family of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old man shot dead by six Vallejo police officers on that date three years ago as he sat in his car at a Taco Bell drive-through. McCoy was shot at 55 times and died at the scene.
Friends, family, the attorney for McCoy’s family, and members of the community gathered on the anniversary and site of his death on Wednesday evening to remember him and call for police reform.
McCoy’s older brother Kori McCoy said that, to him, the drive-through — now a Starbucks — is “sacred ground.”
“Just moments ago, I was reflecting on how many cars have driven over the spot where he was murdered,” he said.
Information about the shooting trickled out very slowly at first, but after body cam footage of the police that night was released by the VPD it only raised more questions.
Taco Bell employees called the police on Feb. 9, 2019, to report an unresponsive male in the drive-through. Body cam footage shows officers surrounding the left side of the vehicle on the driver’s side. Officers allege that they saw a gun in McCoy’s lap. There is no firearm visible in the footage. Officers did not attempt to wake McCoy at that point, and instead they raised their guns head-level with him while he remained asleep.
An officer can be heard saying, “If he reaches for it, you know what to do.” Soon after, McCoy appears to come to, groggily scratching his shoulder but not appearing to be aware that he was flanked by police. At that point, officers suddenly unleashed a hail of bullets into the car — 55 over a four-minute period.
‘Where is the outrage?’
“He was clearly shot awake,” said his brother. “Where is the outrage?”
McCoy’s death is one of what many residents say are too many deaths at the hands of Vallejo Police over the last decade.
Most recently, State Attorney General Rob Bonta launched an independent investigation into the VPD in the wake of the 2020 shooting death of Sean Monterrosa in the Walgreen’s parking lot on the evening of the George Floyd protests.
“Stop telling us that you hear us when you ain’t hearing a damn thing.”Askari Sowonde, vigil attendee
Roughly 75 people showed up on Wednesday night to rally for reform and to remember McCoy. Other family members of people killed by Vallejo police were there as well. Paul McGowan was present, the mother of Ronell Foster, an unarmed man who was shot in the back and killed after being approached by police in 2018 for riding a bike without a headlight. Alicia Saddler, the sister of Angel Ramos, was also at the vigil. Ramos was shot and killed by the VPD in 2017.
“Support for one family is support for all of our families,” Saddler told the crowd.
“Stop telling us that you hear us when you ain’t hearing a damn thing,” said Vallejo resident Askari Sowonde.
Event organizer and attorney for the McCoy family Melissa Nold took to the microphone and called for “justice.”
“There’s broad support for police reform,” she said. “We have to make them do it.”
Life influenced his art
McCoy’s brother Kori said that Willie’s early life was stable, in a two-parent home. By the time he reached the age of 12, however, both of his parents had died of cancer. A musician, Willie rapped about the pain of growing up without a father.
“He did have his troubles,” said Kori, adding that he chose to channel them into his art.
“He had a great love for music.”
Though there has only been one officer-involved shooting death under the watch of Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams, who took over in 2019 after the McCoy incident, his department is still embroiled in the so-called Badge Bending scandal, where officers were allegedly bending the tips of their badges every time they shot and killed someone in the line of duty. A former captain has testified to the existence of the practice and the attorney for the police union in Vallejo also admitted that the bending took place as well. Williams ordered an independent investigation into the practice which was completed last September but has yet to be made public.
Attorney Nold and others who took to the microphone on Wednesday night demanded to see the report and scoffed at recent quote by Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams wherein she referred to the badge-bending practice as being mere “rumors.”
“This is a critical issue,” said Nold, adding later, “this has to be a line in the sand.”