Family sues over rapper's death, ask that Vallejo police be put under federal receivership

Civil rights attorneys on Thursday sued the city of Vallejo, alleging the wrongful death of a rapper who was shot 55 times when he awoke with a loaded gun in his lap at a Taco Bell, and also asked that the police department be put under federal receivership.

"The Vallejo Police Department's unconstitutional policing has become so dire and widespread that the city's residents live in terror," the suit states. The lawsuit asks that an independent monitor, like the one assigned to Oakland nearly 16 years ago, be assigned to supervise and evaluate whether or not the policing in Vallejo has been unconstitutional or not. 

The suit was filed on behalf of Willie McCoy's family, who is being represented by the John Burris law firm. Burris knows about federal oversight. He is the lawyer who sued the city of Oakland in 2003, asking for such help and received it.  

"If we don't set a precedent now, nobody is safe," McCoy's cousin David Harrison said at a Thursday news conference.

Burris' firm is representing plaintiffs Kori, Marc, Marquita and Louis McCoy, and Shawnmell Mitchell, all of whom are suing Vallejo, outgoing Police Chief Andrew Bidou, City Manager Greg Nyhoff and the officers involved in the Feb. 9 fatal shooting of the 20-year-old McCoy: Ryan McMahon, Mark Thompson, Bryan Glick, Anthony Romero-Cano, Collin Eaton and Jordan Patzer. 

On the night in question, McCoy, a local rapper, had fallen asleep in the drive-through of a Taco Bell on Admiral Callaghan Lane. He had a loaded gun in his lap and a magazine nearby in the car that was in drive. Police surrounded the car and when McCoy woke up, police say he reached for his gun and they shot him to death because they feared for their safety and "discharged their weapons."  

WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO: Vallejo police fire 55 bullets at Willie McCoy

The city of Vallejo did not comment directly on the suit, filed Thursday in the Eastern District of California. 

But in an interview with 2 Investigates this month, Nyhoff acknowledged that in general, there are certain situations that could have been handled differently. "Do I think every officer needs to be held accountable for what they're doing? Yes," Nyhoff said in that interview.

In addition, a separate report conducted by a city-hired consultant found that the police firing 55 bullets in 3.5 seconds at McCoy to be reasonable and within policy. Nyhoff has already told 2 Investigates that the city of Vallejo is already finalizing a contract with the OIR Group, where veteran former federal civil rights prosecutors will perform an assessment of the department at a cap of $100,000. 

WATCH: Vallejo cop who assaulted Marine has aggressive past

It's not just McCoy who is listed as a victim in the lawsuit. The Burris attorneys cited more than 20 examples of people killed, roughed up or "brutalized" by Vallejo police since 2012, alleging the police have exhibited a "pattern and practice of using excessive force against citizens."   

But in the earlier interview with 2 Investigates, Nyhoff said that he doesn't think the city has an excessive force problem. He reiterated that at a city council meeting this week. "There are people who resist," Nyhoff said at the meeting, according to quotes attributed to him in the lawsuit. "There are people with mental illness who you just have to use force, sometimes for their own health or well-being." 

There is no police department currently or ever placed in federal receivership in the country, according to civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who was the other attorney with Burris who sued Oakland 16 years ago.

In the United States, there are only 20 police departments where the Department of Justice has stepped in to intervene in what are called typically called "consent decrees," according to data provided by the DOJ. 

Oakland's situation is slightly different, Chanin said, because while the police are overseen by a federal monitor and compliance director, Robert Warshaw, as well as a federal judge, the department is not technically in the purview of the Department of Justice. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on June 29, 2019 to include information about federal receivership.