The case of a fatal gas station shooting in Vallejo in November, under investigation by Vallejo police, continues to be one in which the police maintain that the off-duty Richmond police sergeant was acting in self-defense — and new video seeks to bolster that conclusion.
On November 10, 2019, 38-year-old Eric Reason, a.k.a. the rapper Cheddaman, was shot and killed by off-duty Richmond Police Sergeant Virgil Thomas following an apparent dispute over a parking space at a Vallejo gas station. Reason's family has argued through a civil rights attorney that Thomas used excessive force and that the only proof necessary is that Reason was shot in the back of the head while fleeing.
Vallejo police have now released surveillance video of the incident, shot from the convenience store at the gas station where the altercation took place. In the video, Thomas's Mercedes can be seen pulling into the gas station and pulling into an open parking spot in front of the store. A minivan being driven by Reason can be seen attempting to turn into the same parking spot after filling up with gas — what can't be heard is honking that occurred between the two vehicles.
Thomas then exits his vehicle, and Reason allegedly shouted profanities at him through his car window. Reason then exited his vehicle and came to confront Thomas face to face. The two exchange words, and Reason can be seen returning to his car, popping the hood, and removing a handgun that was wrapped in a rag. He then approaches Thomas, who disappears off screen. Reason can be seen continuing to speak in Thomas's direction, but he does not raise his weapon. Reason can then be seen walking away and then running as Thomas begins to shoot. Thomas can then be seeing shooting his weapon in the direction of Reason, who has run off screen.
Ben Therriault, President of the Richmond Police Officers Association, issued a statement about the video, per KPIX. "The video clearly reinforces that unfortunately, a firearm was introduced unnecessarily by Mr. Reason," Therriault says. "Regrettably, this placed Sgt. Thomas in a position where he was forced to protect himself and the public. We will continue to wait until the investigation is finished for final comment."
Following a preliminary investigation, Vallejo Police issued a statement saying, "Sgt. Thomas believed that Reason still posed an immediate threat to the safety of Sgt. Thomas, his wife, who was a passenger in the vehicle, and other patrons of the shopping complex."
But Melissa Nold, an attorney for Reason's family, has been saying since November that the official explanation "fails to mention that Mr. Reason was shot in the back of the head while running for his life." "I have personally examined the bullet wound on the back of Mr. Reason's head," Nold said in a statement. "The Vallejo police department appears to be providing a criminal defense narrative instead of distributing unbiased facts." She added, "This lack of transparency is not surprising based on Vallejo PD's long history of providing misinformation surrounding officer-involved shootings."
Per KQED, Nold also said, "You don’t get to use deadly force against a person that’s running away that isn’t actually imminently able to harm somebody — not as a police officer, and absolutely not as a private person."
Reason's mother, Stephanie Bass, told ABC 7, "I believe if [Sgt. Thomas] would have said he that he was a police officer that my son would not have been arguing back or something." And Nold has said that Reason "was known to be afraid of the police growing up in Vallejo."
As the Mercury News reports, an attorney for Thomas, Justin Buffington, issued a written statement Wednesday calling the sergeant a “decorated veteran police sergeant” and calling Reason an “irate convicted felon.” Buffington continued, "Although Reason fled when he realized that he had attempted to attack someone capable of protecting himself, he refused to drop his gun and, in fact, [was] continuing to present a deadly threat."
The shooting took place only two days before the long-embattled Vallejo PD installed its first black chief of police, Shawny Williams. Williams was appointed following the retirement of Chief Andrew Bidou, under whose tenure there were multiple controversial officer-involved shootings that ended in the deaths of men of color.