Suit claims Vallejo cop who tackled man for filming was part of ‘vigilante police gang’ that bent badges to mark kills

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Suit claims Vallejo cop who tackled man for filming was part of ‘vigilante police gang’ that bent badges to mark kills

VALLEJO — In new court filings, attorneys for a Bay Area man who was tackled by a Vallejo officer as he filmed a traffic stop accuse the officer of participating in a “vigilante police gang” that bent the tips of their badges to mark kills on the job.

The new allegations, filed in court last week by civil rights attorneys Adante Pointer, Melissa Nold, and Patrick Buelna, accuse Vallejo Ofc. David McLaughlin of being one of at least 11 officers in the police department who were part of a so-called “Badge of Honor” gang within the city’s police department. The attorneys represent Adrian Burrell and his cousin, Michael Walton, who sued McLaughlin and the city after McLaughlin tackled Burrell as he filmed Walton being pulled over in 2019.

The attorneys submitted a proposal to file a new civil complaint that includes the badge bending allegations against McLaughlin. Specifically, they allege that McLaughlin bent the tip of his badge in August 2017, after he and four other officers shot and killed Benicia resident Jeffrey Barboa, as Barboa walked toward the officers with a machete held above his head, after crashing his car during a high-speed police chase into Richmond.

Barboa was struck 41 times. A coroner’s inquest jury later ruled it a suicide.

“Plaintiffs are informed and believe and thereon allege that Defendant McLaughlin received a bend in his badge for killing Barboa and was incentivized to draw his firearm and threatened to shoot Plaintiff Walton to acquire another bend in his badge,” the filings say. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe and thereon allege that Defendant McLaughlin became enraged with Plaintiff Burrell because he interrupted his opporunity (sic) to gain another bend in his badge and retaliated against him with excessive force.”

The city has not responded to the allegations yet, but has denied allegations in previous versions of the lawsuit that accuse McLaughlin of using excessive force and the city’s former police chief, Andrew Bidou, of creating a department culture that allowed misconduct to fester. Attorneys for the city also wrote in court records that they lacked information to verify the allegation that McLaughlin was disciplined for tackling Burrell after a video of the incident went viral, but still issued general denials that it was true.

The allegations of badge-bending to mark kills within the department surfaced last year in a story by the independent news site Open Vallejo. Since then, a former Vallejo police captain, John Whitney, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging in part that he was fired for trying to make higher-ups in the department aware of what was going on.

An internal probe of the alleged badge-bending — sparked by the Open Vallejo story — is still pending, but both Chief Shawny Williams and City Manager Greg Nyhoff have publicly stated that preliminary findings indicate that some officers were in fact bending badges to mark on-the-job shootings. Neither Williams nor Nyhoff have named names.

McLaughlin was placed on leave in February and the department opened an internal-affairs investigation after Vallejo resident Adrian Burrell, a Bay Area artist and filmmaker, posted a video to his Facebook page in January showing McLaughlin tackling and handcuffing Burrell who filmed the officer from his porch. The encounter took place Jan. 22, 2019. In May, he returned to work.

McLaughlin, a former Oakland officer who joined Vallejo police in 2014, is also the defendant in a still-unresolved federal lawsuit over an off-duty incident in Contra Costa County, in which he pulled a gun on a man during a heated argument outside a pizza restaurant.

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