Home News Fired California officer who threatened journalist cleared of wrongdoing, will be reinstated

Fired California officer who threatened journalist cleared of wrongdoing, will be reinstated

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Danielle Echeverria

San Francisco Chronicle

A Vallejo police officer fired for sending a threatening email to former Chronicle columnist Otis Taylor Jr., among other misconduct allegations, was cleared of wrongdoing by an arbitrator and will return to work with the police department, his lawyer said Friday.

The Vallejo Police Department and mayor did not respond to a request to confirm that Michael Nichelini, the combative leader of Vallejo’s police union, would be returning to work.

Nichelini was fired in April 2021 following an investigation into an email he sent to Taylor, who reported extensively on misconduct and abusive behavior by the Vallejo Police Department, including reports on Nichelini.

The city also cited another email that Nichelini sent to members of the police union that included the image of a 1906 Vallejo police badge, which was inscribed with what appeared to be a Nazi symbol, as reason for his termination. Nichelini maintained that he did not know the symbol was on the police badge. Lawyers for Nichelini immediately appealed the termination, sending it to arbitration.

Open Vallejo reported that Nichelini called the decision overturning his termination “a win for all of us and the process” in an email sent to union members Wednesday.

Michael Rains, Nichelini’s lawyer, said that the former lieutenant was “anxious” to get back to work starting next week.

“He’s been there many years, and obviously he wanted to get his job back,” Rains said. “He’s delighted to have this whole proceeding behind him.”

His reinstatement will likely allow him to receive more than a year and a half of back pay, Open Vallejo reported. He made $216,000 in 2019, according to public records.

Taylor, a managing editor of KQED, said he was surprised, but not shocked, by the decision, and that it indicates that the department is “disinterested in actual reform.”

“It’s just really disheartening,” he said. “How is anyone supposed to believe that policing in Vallejo is going to change?”

“Even as Vallejo pushes this semblance of reform, I have no hope that the city of Vallejo will reach its stated goals,” he added.

Vallejo mayor Robert McConnel did not immediately respond to questions about what the decision means for the city’s police reform goals.

In December 2020, Taylor, who at the time was moving to join the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigative team, received an email from Nichelini he called a “thinly-veiled threat.”

“Looks like 2021 will be a little bit better not having your biased and (uninformed) articles printed in the newspaper that only inflame the public…… you have never looked for the truth in any of your writings,” the email said. “We will warn our Georgia colleagues of your impending arrival.”

At the time, now former police chief Shawny Williams said he was “deeply disturbed” by the email to Taylor, and that the Police Department does not “condone any form of disrespect, discourteous behavior or act of intimidation toward our media partners.”

Williams, who worked to reform the troubled department and often clashed with the police union, abruptly resigned from the department last month, following a vote of no confidence from the Vallejo Police Officers Association in July.

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