State Attorney General to 'Review and Reform' Vallejo Police Department Following Fatal Shooting

Following the recent police killing of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa in Vallejo, California’s attorney general announced plans to review and reform the Vallejo Police Department. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The police killing of a 22-year-old unarmed man in Vallejo early Tuesday morning marks the latest incident in a city where families of those killed by police have been demanding justice for years. On Friday, California’s attorney general announced plans to review and reform the Vallejo Police Department (VPD).

“When our communities speak up, we must listen — and, in recent days, people across California and the nation, and in Vallejo, have bravely come together to make their voices heard,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This is only a first step in our broader fight for racial justice. We must all do our part, and we must do it now.”

The state Department of Justice will collaborate with the city and VPD to create a policing plan that aims to improve use-of-force procedures, anti-bias and community policing and accountability, by focusing on training, policy and transparency, Becerra's office said.

This policy review was entered into with cooperation from the city of Vallejo and its police department, and will produce recommendations for changes. The review is different from a "pattern-or-practice" investigation, which would allow the attorney general’s office to both investigate departmental practices and force changes through a court order. It’s possible that the current policy review could become a pattern-or-practice investigation, if Becerra’s office determines that to be necessary.

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Still, Tuesday's VPD killing of Sean Monterrosa, a Latino man from San Francisco, contributes to a long-standing history of community mistrust of the police, as calls for justice and outside intervention continue.

The officer who killed Monterrosa has been placed on leave pending an investigation by the department, though he has yet to be identified. Meanwhile, residents are demanding the officer be fired and body camera footage be released. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Helena, is also calling for an independent investigation of the incident.

“His family, loved ones and community deserve to have a clear understanding of the events that led to this shooting. That’s why I support an independent investigation into the incident. If wrongdoing is found, justice must be upheld,” Thompson said in a statement.

To pay for legal fees and funeral arrangements, Monterrosa's family created a GoFundMe page. "He was a wonderful son, brother, friend who touched the lives of those around him. He was loyal, hard working, and had a heart of gold. He was truly one of a kind," the page says.

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Unarmed, Shot While on His Knees

The fatal shooting of Monterrosa occurred as protests across the country erupted following the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others. But demonstrations against police violence aren’t new to Vallejo — in fact, residents have been protesting for reform and social justice for years.

Amid recent protests Tuesday morning shortly after midnight, officers responded to reports of a break-in at a Walgreens, said Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams during a press conference on Thursday.

Officers saw Monterrosa running, when suddenly he stopped and kneeled, placing his hands above his waist, Williams said, revealing what officers believed to be the butt of a gun.

The officer fired five times through a police car windshield, hitting Monterrosa once, according to Williams. An investigation revealed Monterrosa had a 15-inch hammer tucked into his sweatshirt pocket.

John Burris, an attorney for the family, told the Associated Press he is appalled police would shoot at a person who was on his knees with his hands raised.

“This young man was shot multiple times while he was on his knees and appeared to be trying to surrender,” Burris said, adding that he understands tensions have been high. “But one has to maintain control and you don’t get to arbitrarily shoot someone in a panic, just because the situation is excitable.”

Renewed Demands for Justice

Among those attending Thursday's press conference on Monterrosa’s killing was Alicia Saddler, whose brother Angel Ramos was shot and killed by Vallejo police in 2017. Police said they thought he was stabbing another person during a fight — but no knife was found near him.

“Fire him! Not paid leave, fire him for killing a man that was on his knees!” she said.

Saddler has repeatedly called on the department to hold its officers accountable for deaths like her brother's, and said it’s been hard to get locals to organize around police killings. Families like Saddler's have struggled for years to raise awareness of what they see as a pattern of black and brown men gunned down by local police.

But Saddler sees national protests since the killing of George Floyd as a moment of reckoning for Vallejo, too.

After Monterrosa’s killing, roughly 100 people attended a march she held in Vallejo for her brother and George Floyd. The protest also marked what would have been her brother’s 25th birthday.

Between the deaths of Floyd and now, Monterrosa, she said things might be shifting.

“People are caring, our youth are caring, people of our community and everybody’s coming together,” she said. “And I’m just really glad for that.”

KQED's Devin Katayama and The Associated Press contributed to this report.