Sisters Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa bow their heads in a moment of silence for their brother Sean Monterrosa, a San Francisco native who was killed by a Vallejo police officer in June. The two have advocated tirelessly for justice for their brother since his death. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

State bill would allow families of police brutality victims to seek compensation

A group of state and local officials on Thursday joined two family members of a man fatally shot by Vallejo police in June to announce a bill that would allow the families of police brutality victims to seek compensation from the state even if someone is not arrested or charged with a crime.

Assemblymembers Tim Grayson, D-Concord, David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, helped introduce Assembly Bill 767, which is also co-sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The bill would revise the state’s definition of a crime, for compensation purposes, to include any public offense that is supported by evidence, regardless of whether someone is charged for the crime.

The expanded definition of a crime would apply to the conduct of law enforcement officers. The bill would also prohibit the California Victim Compensation Board, which reviews compensation requests, from denying a request if a victim of police brutality was involved in committing a crime, if the victim failed to “cooperate reasonably” with law enforcement or on the sole basis of a police report.

“AB 767 is California’s opportunity to demonstrate that we value the lives and experiences of all victims, and particularly Black and brown victims of police violence,” Grayson said.

Grayson said he was approached by the victim advocacy group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice to spearhead the bill following the June 2 fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa in Vallejo.

Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn fired five shots at Monterrosa, a 22-year-old San Francisco resident, through the windshield of his vehicle, killing him in a Walgreens parking lot early that morning. Officers were responding to a report of vandalism at the drug store when they saw Monterrosa running away from the store.

The Vallejo Police Department has claimed that Tonn fired at Monterrosa because he mistook a hammer in Monterrosa’s sweatshirt pocket for the butt of a gun. Tonn was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, which garnered national attention.

Oakland attorney John Burris on Thursday said he planned to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Vallejo and Tonn on behalf of Monterrosa’s family.

Burris said it was Tonn’s fourth shooting in five years. “By failing to discipline officers for misconduct, Vallejo’s police command staff essentially ratifies the bad conduct,” he said in a statement. Police have released footage from body cameras worn by officers at the scene, but it does not depict Monterrosa. A Walgreens security camera that might have captured images of Monterrosa was disabled.

City officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called for an FBI investigation into the shooting and the destruction of the windshield Tonn shot through. The shooting came at the height of protests following the death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, which Grayson acknowledged Thursday.

“This is a nation that is grappling with its oppressive past and lingering effects, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and far too many more have shown that we must do more to live up to our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all,” he said.

Sean’s sisters, Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa, said their family has worked tirelessly to achieve justice in the wake of Sean’s death.

“While our parents go to work every day, we have to stand in for our brother and do this work because it’s too much for them to handle,” Michelle Monterrosa said, adding that their mother has worked seven days a week since Sean’s death, taking only two days off to mourn.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said the bill simply allows victims of police violence to be compensated the way victims of other crimes are.

“Victims and their families should not be forced to turn to GoFundMe accounts to cover funeral, burial and medical expenses,” Boudin said.

The state Senate’s Public Safety Committee is expected to consider the bill Friday. The bill’s authors expect it to reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk by the end of the month. Newsom would then have 30 days to sign the bill.

Given that it was introduced as an urgency statute, AB 767 would go into effect immediately upon Newsom’s signature rather than Jan. 1 of the following year like other bills.

”Let’s get this done, let’s get it across the finish line and get excited for this critical change for California,” Bonta said.

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