By Mella Bettag, Elizabeth Cho, Anna Okada, Ivy Zhou
VALLEJO – Vallejo Police released body camera footage here this week that revealed the horrific moments before and after the shooting of Sean Monterrosa by a Vallejo police officer.
Unarmed Monterrosa was shot on June 2, 2020, drawing intense criticism and many questions for Vallejo Police, who have been involved in a series of controversial killings of residents over the past decade.
Footage from Vallejo Police is narrated by a Vallejo police officer describing the scene and the investigation of Monterrosa’s death that is currently underway. While the released footage allows for a greater understanding of the incident, it also raises more questions.
At 12:36 a.m., four Vallejo officers were called in to respond to a call about looting at a local Walgreens, all of them in unmarked police vehicles. As they approached the Walgreens, they encountered Monterrosa, who was heading towards a sedan. According to police testimony only, when Monterrosa saw the officers, he turned towards them, crouched down, and moved his hands towards his waist.
Officers said they believed that movement meant that Monterrosa was reaching for a firearm and at which point an officer in the back seat shot through the front windshield of the police vehicle and fatally shot Monterrosa. It was later discovered that Monterrosa only had a hammer with him.
In the released police body cam video, the sound is muted and there is no clear video until directly after the shooting. Once the sound and clear video starts, you can hear one officer asking another, “What did [Monterrosa] point at us?” and the other officer responding, “I don’t know.” Another officer suggests that Monterrosa tried to flee, claiming, “He ran, he ran,” no supporting evidence.
The video then shows the officers leaving their vehicles to go up to where Monterrosa was shot. Upon seeing that Monterrosa was dead, an officer (presumably the one who shot Monterrosa) states in frustration, “This is not what I f**king needed tonight!” and “Stupid!” He continues to pace around, making frustrated and upset sounds.
Later, another officer approaches the said officer and tells him to, “Calm down, take some deep breaths. We’ve been through this before, you’ll be all right.” This was after the officer had stated, “I thought that f**king a**hole was done,” implying that he had thought Monterrosa was armed, which is why he shot him.
The Vallejo Police Department has been allowed to withhold the name of the officer who shot and killed Monterrosa. At this time, it remains officially undisclosed.
The Open Vallejo and Bay Area New Group, however, have identified the officer as Jarrett Tonn, who has been involved in four police-involved shootings in the past five years, and is part of the “Fatal 14”, a group of Vallejo officers that have shot and killed people multiple times.
Historically, the Vallejo police force has not held officers accountable for their fatal actions, even if they have a history of use-of-force or shooting and killing.
Officer Sean Henney of the VPD was involved in three shootings in 21 weeks, and instead of being held accountable by either the courts or the police department, he was given a job as a detective.
The problem of violence and death at the hands of Vallejo police runs deeper than a few officers. Since 2010, 19 people have died in police shootings in Vallejo, and Vallejo has the third-highest rate of police shootings per capita, significantly higher than all other Bay Area cities.
Extreme violence within Vallejo police shootings is not unlikely either. In the 2019 killing of Willie McCoy, a 20 year-old Vallejo resident, the Vallejo Police fired 55 shots in 3.5 seconds.
In fact, Vallejo police are training to fire excessively, using the “zipper method.” Roger Clark, the former LA sheriff’s Lieutenant and expert on use-of-force, said he’d “never heard of any other police department using it”.
The makeup of Vallejo’s police department is also disproportionate to its population. Vallejo is very racially diverse, with even groups of Black, white, Asian and Latino people. Conversely, 70 percent of the Vallejo police force are white.
In response to Monterrosa’s death, the California Department of Justice entered into a three-year partnership with the VPD on anti-bias, use-of force, and accountability training. Many asked why this had not happened earlier, referencing Vallejo’s continued history of bad conduct. In response, California Attorney General Becerra cited a lack of resources.
Despite stepping in to reform the VPD, the Department of Justice has declined to help in Solano County’s investigation of the Monterrosa case, saying they won’t get involved with local investigations unless there is a specific reason to do so.
The public’s response to the shooting was much more intense, ignited with the flames of outrage against police brutality following George Floyd’s murder in May. Protests grew, and Sean’s name could be heard chanted by crowds across the Bay Area.
To ease the public outrage as a result of Monterrosa’s shooting, Vallejo Police Department Chief Officer Shawny Williams makes several concluding remarks at the end of yesterday’s press conference.
Williams first acknowledges the tragedy of the loss of Monterrosa’s life and offers his condolences to the Monterrosa family. He then goes on to discuss the further investigation of Monterrosa’s police involved shooting.
In the press conference, Williams assures the public on behalf of Vallejo Police Department that “when we have an officer involved shooting, there are a number of investigations that are automatically started.”
In these circumstances, the Solano County District Attorney would usually review the shooting in a joint investigation with the Vallejo Police Department’s detective department. However, the Solano County District Attorney recused her office from conducting the investigation on this incident, turning the responsibilities over to the California State Attorney General’s Office who also denies this responsibility.
In response to the denied investigation from both parties, Vallejo Police Department negotiated an independent third party administrative investigation with the OIR Group, an independent police oversight and review group. Vallejo Police Departments hopes that this investigation will ultimately help them be more effective and accountable for its actions.
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