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Former Vallejo cop who exposed ‘badge hijacking’ to receive nearly $1 million

A former police captain who alleges in a lawsuit that he was fired for speaking out against his colleagues and exposing corruption within the Vallejo Police Department will receive nearly $1 million in a settlement with the city.

John Whitney and his attorney, Jayme Walker, agreed to the settlement last week, in which the city will pay Whitney $900,000 plus all costs, liens and attorney’s fees.

“I feel vindicated by the settlement agreement because of the amount,” Whitney told the Times in an interview Monday. “You don’t settle for almost a million dollars if you did everything right.”

Whitney alleges in a lawsuit filed against the city and his former employers in 2020 that he was fired after informing Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff, Mayor Bob Sampayan and then-City Atty. Claudia Quintana that members of the police ran the corners of their badges to commemorate every time a police officer killed a civilian.

The Times contacted the city of Vallejo, the city attorney’s offices, the city manager, the mayor, former Police Chief Andrew Bidou and the Vallejo Police Department on Monday. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Monica Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Solano County Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed that an independent investigation into “badge misappropriation” in the department “did not result in any criminal liability.”

Whitney told the Times that he first became aware of the misuse of badges within the department in late 2014 or early 2015 by another officer. He then learned about it a second time in February 2019 when an officer was placed on administrative leave and had to surrender his badge. When Whitney asked him why two edges were bent, the officer replied that it represented the two people he had killed in the line of duty.

Whitney, who had worked for the Vallejo Police Department since 2000 and was promoted to captain in 2015, also reported what he claimed were other illegal practices and mismanagement during the former chief’s tenure Bidou, also named in the lawsuit. Whitney reported that a sergeant used force on a minor and filed a false use of force report claiming the child made terroristic threats.

Whitney alleged that he asked Bidou to conduct an internal investigation into badge folding within the department, but Bidou refused. Whitney then ordered all supervisors to collect all the folded badges, and about 10 were found. Bidou allegedly ordered the badges to be returned to the police and asked them to repair them. Whitney expressed concern about the destruction of evidence and informed Nyhoff, Sampayan and Quintana.

Whitney told the Times that it is frowned upon in law enforcement to report misconduct toward other officers because it means “crossing the thin blue line.” There is also a fear of reprisals from superiors and colleagues.

“There was too much going on and there was no accountability,” he said. “I was surprised and shocked that City Manager Nyhoff was involved in a plot to conduct an internal affairs investigation and have me fired. The person I went to thinking she was the one who could fix these problems was also involved in the cover-up of police wrongdoing.

Whitney alleges that in August 2019, Bidou and Nyhoff retaliated against him for reporting badge misappropriation and other misconduct and made him the subject of a “sham investigation” during which he was fired for deleting personal content from his department-issued cell phone, a practice he says is not prohibited by the police department.

Walker said she hopes the settlement will push more officers to speak out about misconduct within their departments.

“I hope there are real changes in Vallejo, and one of the important things that keeps them in line is that the press has intensely scrutinized their conduct,” Walker told the Times. “This is how we can shed light on this issue and protect whistleblowers who should have been memorialized as heroes and were instead illegally fired.”

Whitney, who now works for the El Cerrito Police Department, said there is a stigma about being fired from law enforcement, especially as a high-ranking captain. He said it was difficult for him to find another job, and once he started applying, agencies told him they had been contacted about his past. The El Cerrito police chief even told him he was asked why he hired Whitney.

“There were a lot of worries and sleepless nights that lasted for years,” Whitney said. “With all my education, experience and training, I was ready for the next step. Instead, I started over as a line-level patrol officer at a new agency. They took away everything I worked on in my career.

Los Angeles Times

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