It was an all-too-familiar scene in U.S. cities: Family, friends and supporters of a black man shot and killed by police, demanding answers and justice.
On Wednesday, the scene was at Vallejo City Hall, where the gathering centered around the shooting by Vallejo police of a man in February.
In a meeting at Vallejo Police Department headquarters immediately afterward, the president of the local NAACP said his group’s members planned to reserve judgment until all the facts are in.
“We have sympathy for the family, but we don’t want to rush to judgment,” said Vallejo NAACP chapter president Jimmy Jackson, who also attended the press conference.
At issue is an officer involved shooting that took place Feb. 13 that took the life of Ronell “Catdaddy” Foster, a 32-year-old father of two.
Civil Right Attorney John Burris, representing Foster’s family, said he has filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf, saying the officer, Ryan McMahon “murdered” Foster, shooting him in the back as he “ran for his life.”
The family demands the release of the officer’s body camera footage, suggesting that the department’s failure to turn it over is indicative of it having something to hide. Police Chief Andrew Bidou and assistant City Attorney Kelly Trujillo, however, said it’s a matter of having the video enhanced so it’s viewable, and negotiating the particulars of the viewing with the family and its lawyers.
“We got a request to view the video last week, and we said we’d discuss arranging it next week, and here we are, on Wednesday, hit with this (lawsuit and press conference)” Trujillo said.
Bidou issued his own press release upon learning of Burris’ press conference.
“The information provided by Mr. Burris today has the power to undermine the true relationship between the Vallejo community and police,” it read. “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. We will be working to meet with the Foster family so they can view the body camera footage of the incident.”
At the press conference, family members held posters and photos of Foster and wore shirts bearing his image. Burris also presented journalists with several blown-up photos — one an aerial view of the area where the chase, struggle and ultimate shooting took place and others purported to be of bullet holes and other injuries to Foster’s body.
Burris said that Foster was on a bicycle and talking with two friends near the intersection of Capitol Street and Sonoma Boulevard when they noticed two police officers watching them shortly before 8 p.m. that day.
This is one of several allegations Bidou said are easily disproved, as McMahon was patrolling solo that day.
Burris said officer McMahon “brutally bludgeoned” Foster with a flashlight, causing him to flee, and that he was trying to scramble over a fence to safety when he was shot several times in the back. He said the officer “stalked” and “barbarously” killed Foster, who was “running for his life” at the time. He said the officer was not in danger, even if he felt he had cause to chase Foster, and therefore had no call to kill him.
“It looks like murder to me,” Burris said. “The officer should be prosecuted.”
Foster’s mother, Paula McGowan, his aunt Angela Giles and his uncle, Sidney Alvin Polk, all spoke. There were tears and the family was in obvious pain and grief.
“When they took my son, they took me,” McGowan said. “I just want justice. I just want to know why. Every day is hard for me. I won’t rest until I get justice for my son. No justice, no sleep.”
“Catdaddy was loved by everybody in this community,” Giles said. “He didn’t deserve to be gunned down like this.”
“This is a devastating loss,” Polk added. “My nephew didn’t deserve to die in the street like a dog. The Vallejo Police Department needs to be held accountable.”
At the meeting at police headquarters, still shots taken from the officer’s body cam video were shown, purporting to show Foster and the officer struggling, Foster grabbing the officer’s flashlight and the officer firing at him.
Detective of Police Rob Greenberg said McMahon had been trying to stop Foster to tell him he’d noticed some safety issues with his bicycle, but that Foster wouldn’t stop, instead fleeing and leading the officer on a car chase and then a foot pursuit into an alley, where the struggle and shooting occurred.
Bidou said he doesn’t want Foster’s family to see the video first “on CNN,” so, therefore did not show it to those gathered at headquarters Wednesday. Greenberg, who was there to explain to the gathering what the dark, pixilated and confusing images showed, said he thinks a total of six shots were fired.
He and Bidou said that once the video is released, it will be clear that Foster had threatened McMahon with his own flashlight, and that the two men were face-to-face when the first shot was fired. Police also said life-saving attempts were made at the time, but failed.
No fence appears to be near where Foster’s body fell, though the flashlight is seen by his feet.
Trujillo said the video will be made available to the family within days.
If and when it is made public, the video will “clearly show that (Foster) was not running away or climbing a fence when he was shot,” Bidou said. “This is very clear.”
Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.