RONELL FOSTER FAMILY CALLS FOR `HELP' ON ANNIVERSARY OF DEATH
33-year-old was killed by VPD officer Ryan McMahon in downtown Vallejo
When Angela Sullivan is asked what she remembers most about her nephew Ronell Foster, she doesn't mince words.
“His smile. His love and laughter,” said Sullivan, without a moment's hesitation. “His joy.”
There wasn't much joy Monday at the corner of Carolina and Marin streets, where a few dozen people showed up to pay respect to Foster, who was killed five years ago by Vallejo police officer Ryan McMahon. Onlookers set down posters filled with photographs of Foster, or held candles as they thought of Foster's life.
On Feb. 13, 2018, Foster was shot multiple times in the back of the head in downtown Vallejo. Foster had grabbed the officer's flashlight, allegedly threatening him with it as the pair struggled in an alleyway.
The 33-year-old Foster, a father of two, died at the scene.
On Monday, Sullivan, her voice tinged with emotion as she fought back tears, called for something to be done.
“We need help,” Sullivan said. “We need someone from the federal justice department to come here and take this evidence and start a prosecution. We have more than enough. Ronell never posed a threat to Ryan McMahon, contrary to what he's saying. We need someone to come help us and be willing to stand up and fight against this very corrupt, gang-style police department they are running here in Vallejo.”
On the night of the shooting, McMahon said he had tried to
“We need someone from the federal justice department to come here and take this evidence and start a prosecution. We have more than enough.
— Angela Sullivan
stop Foster, who was riding his bicycle in and out of traffic without a headlamp. Foster biked away before running off on foot until he stumbled in a dark alley in downtown Vallejo. He 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.
Almost exactly one year later, McMahon would become one of the six officers to shoot and kill Willie McCoy, leading to his firing in October of 2020. The family of Foster reached a settlement with the city of Vallejo for $5.7 million in September of the same year.
Five years later Sullivan and the family say they are still looking for justice. They say recent articles by Open Vallejo and the Vallejo Sun that claim Vallejo City Senior officials allegedly destroyed records concerning police shootings have made it more difficult for impacted families to cope.
“They are destroying evidence and it's heartbreaking because it's blatant,” Sullivan said, her voice rising. “They're saying `(expletive) all of us. We can do what we want to do.' That's evidence enough for the feds to show up and shut this place down. God has a way of making the devil do his business. All of this is coming out for a reason and Ronell's death won't be in vain. His death is going to bring a lot of change and accountability. I'm sorry he had to be a martyr but guess what? It is what it is and I'm not going to stop until he's (McMahon) is in jail or hell.”
Sullivan eventually led a group from the corner of Carolina and Marin into the alleyway on Carolina where Foster was killed. Sullivan started a prayer at the site, asking God to help her get through the difficult times.
“He was my nephew but I loved him like a son,” Sullivan said. “I miss him so much.”
Erin Foster, Ronell's youngest sister, didn't like celebrating this day, saying it was more about her honoring Ronell.
“Today is hard. Honestly, I hate celebrating the day I have to reminisce about the day I received a horrible phone call,” Erin Foster said. “So today is more honoring him and his life and who he was to us. I want to send a message to everyone that police brutality isn't OK. We should put an end to it. I never thought it could happen to me until of course my brother was a victim.”
Like Sullivan, Erin said she misses Ronell's smile the most.
“It was contagious and it made everyone laugh,” Erin said. “He was like the clown of the family.”
Sullivan said she sees signs of Ronell all the time.
“I walked up behind a young man at a gas station that sounded like him,” Sullivan said, fighting back tears. “And I grabbed him from behind and he hugged me back because he knew my child. They had always told him that he and Ronell sounded alike when they laugh. It's been many times, many things. It can be anything. It could be a pack of Top Ramen and think about the last night we spent together before he was killed the next night.”
Relative Andrew Jackson said police not involved in issue of police brutality need to call out the ones that are.
“Until there is real, real, real police reform and they can stand up against each other for what they are doing wrong, there will never be any accountability,” Jackson said. “You don't justify or sweep something under the rug by passing the family some money. Justice is more priceless than money. Money can't bring a person back. And he's (McMahon) still working in law enforcement and that's what hurts our family the most.”