A former SWAT team commander exposed a disturbing practice within California's' Vallejo Police Department following the shooting death of a 20-year-old college student and rapper last year.

Several cops within the department are said to have commemorated officer-involved killings with gatherings involving alcohol and barbeques.

The group would allegedly acknowledge fatal shootings by bending the “points of their badges each time they kill[ed] in the line of duty." What's more unsettling is that the ritual was known as "the Badge of Honor."

According to an investigative report from Open Vallejo, former Capt. John Whitney said he was terminated from the department after he voiced concerns about the culture brewing among its ranks. Open Vallejo reports a minimum of 14 police officers have had their badges bent by a peer following their involvement in a fatal shooting.

At least seven of those officers have multiple bends on their badges, which symbolizes multiple shootings. The officers in the group have accounted for almost a third of Vallejo’s fatal police shootings in the last 20 years.

Following the lead of the Oakland Police Department, former Vallejo Police Chief Robert Nichelini replaced the VPD's brass badges with sterling silver seven-point stars in 2003. The change may have inspired the badge-bending ritual, as the silver is more malleable and badges aren’t worn regularly on uniforms, Open Vallejo reports.

Whitney felt the pervasive culture needed to be brought to his superiors following public outcry over the death of Willie McCoy, who was killed while waiting in the drive-thru lane of Taco Bell on February 9, 2019.

Police were called to conduct a wellness check on McCoy after he fell asleep in his car and restaurant employees said he was “slumped over,” The Guardian reported.

The first two officers who arrived on the scene considered breaking his window and pulling the student out of the vehicle. Instead, officers Anthony Romero-Cano and Jordon Patzer waited with guns drawn on McCoy until more officers arrived.

Patzer’s father, Jeremie, killed two men and critically wounded another during his tenure in the department. According to Open Vallejo, Jeremie had at least one point of his badge bent.

The next member of the VPD to show up on the scene was officer Mark Thompson, who fatally tased a man in 2007 after shooting another the previous year, per Open Vallejo. Sources say Thompson has at least one point of his badge bent as well. 

Upon Thompson’s arrival, Romero-Cano told him, “He’s got a gun in his lap. The magazine’s — magazine’s half out, so he’s only got one shot if he shoots.”

Thompson replied, “If he reaches for it, you know what to do,” before he tried to open McCoy’s driver's side door.

Then, a fourth officer arrived and positioned himself next to McCoy’s car. The officers yelled directions at the 20-year-old for two minutes, with their flashlights pointed inside the vehicle. McCoy moved his right arm as officer Bryan Glick was arriving on the scene. Exiting his car, Glick drew his weapon on McCoy. Moments later, the gang of officers fired 54 shots into the vehicle.

Ryan McMahon, another officer reporting to the scene of the incident, collected his second bend for firing a .45 caliber round in the direction of the car, Open Vallejo reports.

An anonymous police official told Open Vallejo that the shooting had the feel of “an execution.”

Although District Attorney Krishna Abrams cleared McMahon of culpability in January, high-ranking law enforcement officials said the tradition of badge bending was brought to her attention months before she made her decision on McMahon’s involvement.

“We don’t have any credible evidence of that,” Paul Sequeira, Solano County chief deputy district attorney, said. “We don’t respond to rumors. Nobody brought that to us.”

With increased attention on the clandestine culture, Police Chief Andrew Bidou asked Whitney to address badge-bending at a command staff meeting. Following the address, Whitney requested the high-level officers inspect the uniforms of their subordinates and confiscate any bent badges.

According to Open Vallejo, 10 badges were collected in the first hour and placed in a box for Bidou. The badges were returned to their owners after Bidou told Whitney that repairing them might draw concerns from the finance department, which could lead to him losing candidacy as the interim chief.

Bidou’s bid for the position was voided after it was found to be in violation of California’s retirement policy. Former Fairfield Police Chief Joe Allio was named interim head of Vallejo’s department in June 2019, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Whitney brought news of the harmful culture to Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff, Mayor Bob Sampayan and other local officials in April 2019. He said he made Allio aware of the situation, but he was the only officer punished in connection to the badge bending.

Whitney was fired in August of 2019 for “removing family photographs and other personal data from his work phone” during an internal affairs investigation that alleged he mishandled information, Open Vallejo reports.

The former police commander filed a retaliation claim against the department in March. Sampayan wrote a letter to accompany Whitney’s claim in support of his efforts.

“Frankly, I believe that because John [Whitney] spoke out about a negative culture on the Vallejo Police Department, his reputation was soiled by those who did not want any ‘dirty laundry’ aired,” he wrote.

Sampayan, a retired sergeant of the police force, said he saw bent badges during his time in the department.

“When I was on the police department, I did notice that there were a couple of officers that had bent badge tips. I had no idea what happened,” he told Open Vallejo. “Nobody said anything back then.”

On June 5, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced in a news release a forthcoming review of the VPD’s practices in an effort to “support effective policing through improvements in use-of-force procedures, anti-bias and community policing, and accountability by focusing on training, policy, and transparency in alignment with national standards.”

In the release, Police Chief Shawny Williams said he is looking forward to the audit and “welcome[s] all voices to the table.”