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California rapper not alert when police killed him, family says after viewing bodycam video

"They have said he reached for a gun. We never saw that," said a cousin of Willie McCoy, who saw the footage.
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The family of a California rapper who was fatally shot by police in his car said an officer's bodycam footage suggests he was not awake when they opened fire, and that he appeared to be scratching himself, not grabbing for a weapon.

"What we saw was a sleeping man," David Harrison, a cousin of Willie McCoy, 20, said. "He reaches with his right arm to his left shoulder, scratching. He wasn't awake. There wasn't enough time for him to wake up."

Police in the Bay Area city of Vallejo were responding to a call about a man who was unresponsive in a Taco Bell drive-thru with a handgun on his lap. The bodycam footage, which was taken from one of the six officers who shot at McCoy, was shown Wednesday to three family members, including Harrison, who viewed the video for about 1 1/2 hours.

Image: Willie McCoy
Willie McCoyLaw Offices of John L. Burris

In the video, he said, officers told McCoy to show them his hands and then quickly shot him, adding that he never heard the officers identify themselves as police.

"It was like almost instantaneous," Harrison, 48, said. "I can't tell you how many seconds, but if I was to estimate, from what I've seen, maybe from a couple of seconds."

Harrison said he didn't see his younger cousin's face from the vantage point of the officer's bodycam, but that for about 15 minutes before the shooting, the officers were standing around and didn't appear to have a plan of action that could have prevented anyone from getting hurt.

The family's description of events after viewing the bodycam footage differs from the Vallejo police's official version following the shooting.

According to Vallejo police, a call came in at around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 from a Taco Bell employee who said there was a driver "slumped over" in a silver Mercedes-Benz in the drive-thru.

Police said they arrived and attempted to box in McCoy's car, which was still running, to prevent any erratic movement. That's when they said he woke up but failed to listen to commands.

The Taco Bell drive-through, where Willie McCoy was shot and killed, in Vallejo, Ca on Feb. 28, 2019. Nearly three weeks after six officers reportedly fired into the car of Willie McCoy at this location, the restaurant remains closed.
The Taco Bell drive-through, where Willie McCoy was shot and killed, in Vallejo, Ca on Feb. 28, 2019. Nearly three weeks after six officers reportedly fired into the car of Willie McCoy at this location, the restaurant remains closed.Brock Stoneham / NBC News

As he "quickly moved his hands downward" toward his gun, six officers "fearing for their safety" pulled their service weapons and shot him in four seconds, police said. There is no mention whether McCoy fired his weapon, and none of the officers were injured.

Attorneys for his family said he was hit about 25 times, including in the face, throat and upper body.

All six of the officers, who have served from seven months to 12 years with the Vallejo Police Department, were placed back on duty.

Harrison said a video taken from Officer Anthony Romero-Cano's bodycam showed him having a conversation with another officer about the weapon on McCoy's lap and that they acknowledged he did not have a clip in the gun — indicating it could have either had one bullet left in the chamber or was empty.

Harrison said he also heard an officer say to another of McCoy that "if he moves," then gestured that he knows "what to do" — raising questions about what that indicated.

"They have said he reached for a gun," Harrison added. "We never saw that."

Police have not released the bodycam footage publicly, citing the ongoing investigation.

Video from a witness' cellphone camera taken from a distance on the night of the shooting captured the sound of the police fusillade and an officer shouting, "Put your hands up!" after the volley of shots. McCoy died at the scene.

A semiautomatic handgun "with an extended magazine inserted in the weapon" was recovered that night, according to police.

The department did not immediately return a request for further comment Thursday but has created a web page about the case to allow the public to "separate fact from fiction regarding this investigation."

Harrison said police Wednesday offered their condolences, but also told the family that they found McCoy had drugs in his system.

"They made the statement that they could usually defame the suspect, but they decided not to," Harrison said. "I asked them if the officers were drug-tested, too, and they said no."

An autopsy and toxicology report are being withheld publicly during the investigation. Regardless of what was in McCoy's system, Harrison said, he did not appear to be in a threatening position inside of his car.

"There wasn't a call that this man was irate or robbing a store," he added. "This is a person that looks like he needs help."

Image: David Harrison
David Harrison, a cousin of Willie McCoy, speaks at a rally outside City Hall in Vallejo, California on Feb. 28, 2019.Brock Stoneham / NBC News

The law firm of Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris has filed a claim against the city and the officers alleging negligence.

A city spokeswoman has said the claim remains "under review" and a response will be made within 45 days of its receipt.

Melissa Nold, one of the family's attorneys, said she was not allowed to watch the bodycam footage with her clients, adding that there was no legal justification but rather a decision made by the department.

"That's the frustration they create: Now you have lay people interpreting things, unlike someone who's seen hundreds of these," she said.

The family viewed the bodycam footage on the same day that Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou, 49, announced his retirement after more than four years on the job.

The city's leaders said his retirement first came up a year ago, and it is not related to recent criticism over the department's handling of fatal police shootings or officers' use of force, the Vallejo Times-Herald reported.