The California Department of Justice will conduct an independent review of the fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa, a San Francisco man killed last year by Vallejo police officers, to determine if criminal charges are warranted, state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Thursday.
Monterrosa, 22, was shot on June 2 through the throat outside a Vallejo Walgreens after officers responded to reports of looting during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Body camera video released after the shooting showed that he was kneeling when Vallejo police Detective Jarrett Tonn opened fire with an AR-15 through the windshield from the back seat of an unmarked police vehicle.
Police have said Tonn, an 18-year veteran of the department, opened fire because he believed Monterrosa was reaching for the butt of a handgun near his waistband. After the shooting, officers discovered he had a 15-inch hammer in the front pocket of his sweatshirt but no firearm.
Monterrosa’s family has been vocal about the shooting and pressured former state Attorney General Xavier Becerra for an investigation. In a San Francisco Examiner opinion piece, sisters Michelle and Ashley Monterrosa said Bonta’s appointment as attorney general had brought new hope to the family.
“While Bonta will not be able to bring back the years we should have had with our brother, our hope is that as attorney general, Bonta will bring our family justice and strive for a better track record of justice and accountability,” the sisters wrote.
The family issued a statement expressing gratitude over Bonta’s decision on Thursday.
“We are encouraged by the fact that this will be done by Attorney General Bonta and the Department of Justice directly. It feels incredibly meaningful to finally receive the respect our family and Sean deserved these past nearly 12 months,” the family said. “We have made deep sacrifices to get to this point.”
Typically, county district attorney’s review police shootings to determine if criminal charges should be filed. However, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams has recused herself and her office from investigating the shooting deaths of both Monterrosa and Willie McCoy, another man killed by Vallejo police in 2019.
Bonta criticized Abrams, saying she “unilaterally abdicated her responsibility” in failing to investigate the June 2, 2020 shooting.
“Without accountability, there is no justice,” Bonta said in a statement.“It’s past time Sean Monterrosa’s family, the community, and the people of Vallejo get some answers. They deserve to know where the case stands. Instead, they’ve been met with silence. It’s time for that to change; it’s time for action.”
Local authorities completed an investigation into Monterrosa’s shooting on March 10, 2021, and submitted it to Abrams’ office for review. Abrams then attempted to deliver the file to the state Department of Justice “without invitation or notice,” and offered no evidence that it had a conflict or other issue that prevented it from evaluating the case, according to Bonta’s office.
“Seeing the failure of the District Attorney to fulfill this important responsibility, my office will review the case to ensure a fair, thorough, and transparent process is completed,” Bonta said. “This is the right thing to do and I will go where the facts lead. Rebuilding trust in our institutions starts with the actions of each and every one of us. If there has been wrongdoing, we will bring it to light.”
Starting July 1 this year, the state Department of Justice will gain the ability to take over investigations of police shootings of unarmed civilians as a result of the passage of Assembly Bill 1506. Department officials estimate they may need to handle as many as 40 such investigations across the state each year.
The California Department of Justice is also conducting an ongoing, separate civil review of the Vallejo Police Department’s policies and practices.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report