Family members of a Black man who had fallen asleep in his car outside a Taco Bell restaurant before being fatally shot by six California police officers are demanding action against the officers involved.
“We cannot fathom why they would have to shoot him,” said David Harrison, the cousin of slain man Willie McCoy. “This was senseless, shooting a man sleeping in his car. We want to make sure this never happens again to another person.”
Vallejo officers fired “multiple rounds” at the man, whom relatives later identified as McCoy, according to the Vallejo Police Department. Officials said the rapper had a weapon on him when they approached his car in the drive-thru Feb. 9, causing officers to fire out of “fear for their own safety.”
The family of McCoy, who went by the stage name Willie Bo, said they believe their loved one was racially profiled and argued there was no reasonable justification for shooting and killing a man asleep in his car.
The deadly incident unfolded Saturday as officers arrived to perform a wellness check after a restaurant employee called to report a man “slumped over” the steering wheel of his car in the drive-thru. Upon approaching the vehicle, officers found the man unresponsive and noticed a handgun on his lap, police said.
Officers allege they tried opening the doors but found they were locked and that the car was still in drive. As backup was called and the officers on-scene continued assessing the situation, police said the driver “suddenly” moved, according to a statement. Officers ordered McCoy to “put his hands up,” but said he “quickly moved his hands downward for the firearm.”
“Fearing for their safety, six officers fired their duty weapons at the driver,” Vallejo Police said. “Officers continued yelling commands at the driver and ultimately reached through the broken glass of the driver’s window to unlock the vehicle. Officers removed the driver from the vehicle, began rendering medical assistance and attempted lifesaving efforts on the driver.
McCoy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Authorities have not confirmed his identity and said the autopsy and toxicology reports are pending. McCoy’s family remains distraught over it all.
“It’s a really big loss. Really, really unexpected,” Harrison told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s a lot of grieving going on, trying to make sense of this thing.”
Marc McCoy, Willie’s older brother, argued that officers made no attempt to handle the situation peacefully.
“The police’s job is to arrest people who are breaking the law — not take the law into your own hands,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “You’re not [the] judge, jury and executioner. We’re never going to get over this.”
McCoy’s death follows multiple incidents involving Vallejo PD’s poor, and sometimes brutal, treatment of its Black residents. Just last month, a Black Marine veteran accused a Vallejo officer of assaulting him, then threatening to throw him in jail for attempting to record his cousin’s traffic stop.
Harrison said no one in Vallejo trusts the police.
“Police have a campaign of executing young black men who fit a certain profile,” he added. “Willie dressed the part. He represents hip-hop music. They are profiled.”
The rapper’s shooting has also raised questions about when it’s appropriate to use deadly force, particularly in situations where the subject is asleep or unresponsive. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, McCoy’s death is one of three deadly police shootings in the Bay Area in recent years in which officers shot an armed man after trying to rouse him.
The family of a homeless man fatally shot by Oakland police in 2018 filed a lawsuit against the department last week, alleging excessive force. Police claimed the man was armed and sleeping between two houses when four officers arrived, rousing him awake. They said he refused to let go of his gun, which prompted the officers to shoot.
In 2015 Oakland police also killed a man found passed out in his car, with authorities claiming he abruptly woke up and reached for a gun in the passenger seat. His family was awarded a $1.2 million settlement, the Guardian reported.
“Any loss of life is a tragedy,” Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou said of McCoy’s killing. “The investigation is still in the early stages.”