Sleeping man shot in California

By The Elm - Mar 07,2019@12:00 am

By Holly Williams

Elm Staff Writer

On Feb. 9, 20-year-old rapper Willie Mc- Coy was shot to death by police officers in northern California after falling asleep in a Taco Bell parking lot. He was slumped over when police responded to a call from a Taco Bell employee about an unconscious man in the drive-thru lane.

His family has since filed a wrongful death claim against the city of Vallejo. Prominent Bay Area civil rights lawyer, John Burris, is representing the family. Willie’s older brother, Marc McCoy, said that “[the police] didn’t try any peaceful solution that would have stopped them from taking his life,” in an interview after the incident with the San Francisco Chronicle.

Willie McCoy had a gun in his lap at the time. It is illegal to open carry in California. Upon seeing the gun, the two officers that initially responded called for backup. After Willie McCoy was startled awake, officers immediately commanded he put his hands up. His hands moved downward, and six different officers shot at him, striking him 25 times. The time between the command and the shooting was roughly four seconds.

Officers had first tried to open the car door and retrieve the gun after arriving on the scene around 10:30 p.m. Finding the door locked, officers instead worked to prevent the vehicle from rolling, as it was in drive. It was during these efforts that Willie McCoy woke.

He had replaced his broken driver-side window with plastic. His family argued that the plastic could have been torn to unlock the car quickly. Questions remain on why the police officers choose to position themselves in front of the sleeping McCoy.

What has been called an “execution” by Willie McCoy’s family is only the latest incident to prompt outrage over the practices of the Vallejo Police Department. One of the officers involved in the shooting was responsible for another death nearly a year prior when the officer shot a father of two after he allegedly brandished a flashlight. A witness disputed the officer’s claim of imminent danger, and the public has questioned the event due to the fact no body camera footage was released.

Earlier in February, another officer was placed on administrative leave for pulling a gun on a motorcyclist, then detaining a man who was filming the event as it happened on his property.

Previous cases where officers approached an armed and unconscious person have included using tactical items such as loudspeakers and beanbags. Police didn’t clear the parking lot or restaurant, and didn’t employ any different strategies to wake Willie McCoy and de-escalate the situation. Instead, they aimed their weapons while only feet away, and when he moved, started shooting.

It’s not much of a surprise that a startled person would make a sudden movement and be confused after waking up to people yelling commands, especially when they are only given seconds to process those commands. The timing of the situation and relative darkness likely couldn’t have helped Willie McCoy understand what was happening. Additionally, some of the officers were in plainclothes, but it is unclear if uniformed or non-uniformed officers were in his line of vision.

It’s possible Willie McCoy was reaching for his weapon, but he also could have been reaching to move it to the floor or to roll down his window. Officers never saw him holding or brandishing the weapon. But the kind of state Willie McCoy was in will only be conjecture now, because he’s unable to explain himself or face due process.

Making use of their non-lethal options before turning to force would have made the difference in protecting the safety of the officers themselves, surrounding citizens, and Willie McCoy. He probably would have faced jail time, but would not, and should not, have received a death sentence.

The Elm

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