FAIRFIELD — Judging by the family, friends and supporters that showed up Wednesday with posters and signs of Ronell Foster, it was clearly obvious that the 36th birthday of Foster was not forgotten.
It was also made clear by the same people that they would not forget the actions of Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams and the Vallejo Police Department when it came to Foster’s life, which ended in 2018 when he was shot by VPD officer Ryan McMahon.
A rally was held outside of the Solano County District Attorney Office to celebrate the birthday of Foster, who was killed by McMahon on Feb. 13 of 2018 when he shot Foster multiple times in the back of the head in downtown Vallejo. Foster had grabbed McMahon’s flashlight and allegedly threatened him with it as the pair struggled in an alleyway. The 33-year-old Foster, a father of two, died at the scene.
McMahon was fired by the VPD in October, and the family of Foster reached a settlement with the city of Vallejo for $5.7 million in September. The rally was mostly directed at Abrams, who in January of 2020 cleared McMahon of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Foster, and who ruled that the shooting was justified. Abrams has also said the Vallejo shooting deaths of Sean Monterrosa and Willie McCoy would be removed from her jurisdiction “in the interest of safety and justice” so that the attorney general could conduct an “outside review.”
However, a report by Bay Area TV station KTVU showed detailed statements in a deposition by McMahon who claimed the investigations by police and prosecutors were “soft-handed.” That has sparked even more interest to have the case reopened and have McMahon criminally charged.
“What we are looking for today is to get accountability,” said Maui Wilson, one of the rally’s organizers. “We need officers to think twice before they shoot. We want this not to happen again.”
Attorney and rally organizer Melissa Nold the Times-Herald that although she was not a lawyer on the case, she was interested because it “was such an obvious case and outcome to her.”
“We’re hoping to get criminal charges today toward McMahon,” Nold said. “Look, these bad cops can do whatever they want, but they can’t be cops and they shouldn’t be able to carry a gun.”.
Foster’s mom, Paula McGowan, eventually sang a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Foster to close out the rally, but before then she was critical that his birthday party had to be in this setting.
“Look at my son y’all,” McGowan said, pointing to a life size cutout picture of Foster. “This is how I have to celebrate my son’s birthday, on cardboard. But he is right here in my heart. And he’s standing here right next to me, his spirit. I was in my car over there and looking at his face, but guess what happened? My music just started going up! I see the numbers going all the way up to 30! By itself! My car ain’t never do that. I’m like, ‘Okay, Cat Daddy (Foster’s nickname), I know it’s your birthday.”
Meanwhile attorney Adante Pointer urged everyone in attendance to keep up the fight for justice and to hold Abrams accountable.
“Krishna took an oath to swear and uphold the law,” Pointer continued. “And not let anyone be above that law. So this is us demanding that she hold truth to her oath and hold officer Ryan McMahon accountable for the life he took, the community he terrorized and the love he substituted with his hate.”
On the night of the 2018 shooting, McMahon said he had tried to stop Foster, who was riding his bicycle in and out of traffic without a head lamp. Foster biked away and then ran off on foot until he stumbled in a dark alley in downtown Vallejo and fell, leading to a scuffle.
The Times-Herald reported in 2019 that McMahon then used a drive stun approach of placing the weapon against Foster’s body to subdue the man. He said he began hitting Foster with a flashlight. At some point, Foster got up and “ripped” the flashlight from McMahon’s hand. McMahon told investigators he feared for his life.
“I’m just so tired of hearing their excuses that when they are holding a gun, or saying that backup is on the way, all that is because they are terrified,” Pointer said. “They say they fear for their life. If they’re that scared they should not be patrolling the streets.”
Almost exactly one year later, McMahon would become one of the six officers to shoot and killed McCoy, and was eventually recommended for termination for his role in the shooting.
McMahon would be fired in September as Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams issued the Notice of Termination after an Internal Affairs investigation concluded, among other things, that “McMahon violated department policies by engaging in unsafe conduct and neglect for basic firearm safety,” a news release stated.
McMahon was recommended to be fired by Williams after an investigation a month ago determined he could have accidentally shot his partner, according to public records released in August. Williams wrote that McMahon’s actions were “dangerous” to his colleagues and out-of-step with “safety norms” of firearms handling. McMahon violated three department policies — any of which, wrote Williams, would support termination of an officer.
Although the families of Reason and Monterossa were on hand to pay their respects at the rally, probably the most vocal of all the speeches at the rally came from family members of Foster, including McGowan and aunt, Angela Sullivan, who had strong words for Abrams.
“I made a promise from day one,” Sullivan told the crowd. “We will get justice and we are going to get justice.”