A former police captain who claims in a lawsuit that he was fired for ratting on 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 a settlement last week in which the city will be required to 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 $1 million if you did everything correctly.”
Whitney claims, in a lawsuit filed against the city and his former employers in 2020, that he was fired after telling Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff, Mayor Bob Sampayan and the then-city attorney. Claudia Quintana that members of the Police Department folded the corners of their badges to commemorate each time an officer killed a civilian.
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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 District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that an independent, third-party investigation into “badge bending” in the department “did not result in any criminal liability.”
Whitney told the Times he first became aware of badge folding within the department in late 2014 or early 2015 from another officer. You learned about it a second time in February 2019, when an officer was placed on administrative leave and had to turn in his badge. When Whitney asked him why two edges were bent, the officer said they 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 the rank of captain in 2015, also reported what he said were other illegal practices and mismanagement under former Chief Bidou’s tenure, also ‘he named in the lawsuit. Whitney reported that a sergeant used force on a child and filed a false use-of-force report stating that the child made terrorist threats.
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Whitney said he asked Bidou to conduct an internal investigation into badge bending within the department, but Bidou refused. Whitney then ordered all supervisors to pick up any bent badges and approximately 10 were found. Bidou allegedly ordered the badges returned to the officers and told them to repair them. Whitney said he was concerned about the destruction of evidence and notified Nyhoff, Sampayan and Quintana.
Whitney told the Times that it is frowned upon by law enforcement to report other officers’ misconduct because that means “crossing the thin blue line.” There is also the fear of retaliation from both 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 essentially involved in a conspiracy to conduct an internal affairs investigation and get me fired. The person I went to thinking this would solve these problems was also involved in the cover-up of wrongdoing by the Police Department.”
Whitney claims that, in August 2019, Bidou and Nyhoff retaliated against him for reporting badge bending and other misconduct and made him the subject of a “sham investigation” in 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 he hopes the settlement will prompt more officers to come forward for misconduct within their departments.
“I hope there is some real change in Vallejo, and one of the significant things that keeps them in line is that the press has carefully scrutinized their conduct,” Walker told the Times. “Here’s how we can shine a light on this and protect whistleblowers who should have been memorialized as heroes and, instead, were illegally fired.”
Whitney, who now works for the El Cerrito Police Department, said there is a stigma in 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 chief of the El Cerrito Police Department even told him that he was asked why he hired Whitney.
“There was a lot of worry and sleepless nights that went on 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 was working for in my career .”
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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.