by John Glidden | Sept. 4, 2020
The family of Ronell Foster will receive $5.7 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit the family filed against the Vallejo and officer Ryan McMahon in March 2018.
The Bay Area News Group first reported news of the settlement amount on Thursday. City officials said Friday that the city will only have to pay $500,000 of the amount while Vallejo’s insurance pool picks up the rest.
McMahon shot Foster seven times after the two men fought behind a building in the 400 block of Carolina St. on the night of Feb. 13, 2018. McMahon, who attempted a traffic stop on Foster, told investigators after the shooting that he sought to “educate” Foster about driving his bicycle without a light, according to files released by the city following passage of the state’s new police transparency law.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, one of two attorneys representing Foster’s family in the lawsuit, told the Bay Area News Group that “no amount of money is enough for a life that was taken and the manner in which it was taken.”
“This was a very horrible offense,” Burris told the newspaper group. “McMahon undoubtedly felt there were no ramifications for this kind of aggressiveness and lawlessness.”
The settlement is the largest payout for the city since 2018 when Vallejo paid $2.5 million to Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn to settle a federal defamation case against the police department, Vallejo Lt. Kenny Park, and Det. Mat Mustard.
Matthew Muller, a disbarred San Francisco immigration lawyer, broke into Quinn’s Mare Island home in March 2015, tying the couple up. Muller abducted Huskins, sexually assaulting her before releasing Huskins near her parents’ home in Huntington Beach.
Police doubted Huskins and Quinn calling the the incident an “orchestrated event.”
According to a 2019 investigative report by independent reporter Scott Morris, the city paid out nearly $5.7 million from 2013-2018 for police incidents which occurred in 2010 or later.
Vallejo’s multiple and large settlement had an effect on the city’s status in an insurance pool that it shared with other municipalities.
Tired of paying for the city’s losses, the California Joint Powers Risk Management Authority (CJPRMA) raised Vallejo’s self-insurance retention amount from $500,000 to $2.5 million per claim in December 2017.
The insurance pool also gave the city 60 days to voluntarily leave the group – which the city did when the Vallejo City Council unanimously approved the city’s withdrawal from the CJPRMA in February 2018.
Vallejo joined the California State Association of Counties – Excess Insurance Authority (CSAC-EIA)’s general liability II program.
Court records show a settlement was tentatively approved by the city and Foster family at the end of July, with the CJPRMA board of directors tasked with reviewing the lawsuit.
Vallejo spokeswoman Christina Lee said in a Friday press release that the Foster lawsuit is covered under the city’s memorandum of coverage with CJPRMA since the case was filed prior to July 1, 2018.
Lee confirmed the city will be responsible for the first $500,000 of the claim, which also includes the city’s legal fees and “other costs of defense.”
“Settlement decisions are made for a variety of reasons,” Lee said in the same press release. “As with virtually all settlement agreements, the agreement for this case is not intended to be, and is not, an admission of liability.”
The CJPRMA board approved the settlement in as Thursday closed session, according to the board’s agenda.
Following the shooting, McMahon told investigators that when he attempted to pull Foster over for the minor traffic violation, the man fled. During the pursuit, Foster ditched his bicycle, and started to run, while McMahon got out of his police vehicle and chased after him.
McMahon later told investigators that he saw Foster reaching for his waistband numerous times. The officer discharged his TASER several times, believing Foster to be armed. The TASER had no effect as Foster continued to flee until falling along a walkway behind the building on Carolina Street.
Catching up, McMahon pushed Foster to the ground and then paced his TASER against the man’s body known as a drive stun. That also had no effect on Foster, McMahon told investigators.
The officer then deployed his police flashlight and started hitting Foster with it. However, Foster managed to grab the flashlight from McMahon, he told investigators.
Fearing for his life, McMahon then shot the 33-year-old man seven times.
“This guy just took my light from me, we’re fighting and nothing I’ve used on him is working. He is gonna smack me in the head,” McMahon told investigators. “He’s gonna take my gun and shoot me or he’s gonna beat me down with my own flashlight and there’s nobody here to help me and nobody knows where I’m at.”
In January, McMahon was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Foster shooting by the Solano County District Attorney’s Office.
A year later, McMahon was involved in the fatal shooting of Willie McCoy. The 20-year-old Suisun City resident was shot 38 times by six Vallejo police officers outside a local Taco Bell.
Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams recommended in March that McMahon be fired after he shot his weapon during the McCoy shooting, while another officer was in his “cone of fire.”
Lee further confirmed Friday that McMahon is still employed with the city.
“Officer McMahon is being provided his due process rights as a public employee and the matter is currently pending,” she said.