Sean Monterrosa's Family Sues 'Trigger-Happy' Officer, City of Vallejo Over Police Killing

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa speak during a July 11, 2020 protest demanding justice for their brother Sean, who was killed by Vallejo police on June 2.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 11:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 7

The City of Vallejo wants to move litigation over its most recent police shooting out of both the Bay Area and Sacramento areas, citing "negative media coverage" that could compromise a fair trial.

The city's announcement of its plans to file a change-of-venue request, first reported by ABC7 News, comes one day after the family of Sean Monterrosa, a young man shot and killed by Vallejo police in June, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for wrongful death against the city of Vallejo and the officer they allege to have killed him.

In a statement, the Vallejo City Attorney's office said it will seek a protective order to prevent the Monterrosa family's attorney – civil rights lawyer John Burris – and "affiliated parties" from speaking to media about the case.

"The jury pool in the local surrounding areas has been debased by inflammatory and sensationalized media statements given by the plaintiff's attorneys in this case," the statement read. "This will ensure fairness and allow the judicial process to play out in a non-partisan fashion, as it was designed."

Melissa Nold, an attorney with the Law Offices of John Burris who has represented other families of those shot by Vallejo Police, called the move an attempt to silence critics.

"First they murder you, then they try to manipulate the system to silence you," Nold wrote on Twitter.

Monterrosa, a 22 year old from San Francisco, was killed by a Vallejo police officer who fired a semi-automatic rifle through the windshield of an unmarked police vehicle on June 2 as officers responded to reports of a break-in at a Walgreens.

Police said the officer fired after mistaking a hammer tucked into Monterrosa's sweatshirt for a gun.

The officer has still not been identified by the city of Vallejo or its Police Department.

Open Vallejo, an independent organization that has fought for the release of public documents involving Vallejo police, previously said it confirmed with multiple sources that Detective Jarrett Tonn was the officer who shot Monterrosa. Reporters with the East Bay Times and Vallejo Times Herald also identified Tonn as the shooting officer, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

The family's lawsuit, filed in federal court on Thursday, names Tonn as an individual defendant.

"Defendant Tonn was trigger-happy, could not see accurately through the unmarked police car windshield, and murdered their son and brother, who was only 22 years old," the lawsuit alleges.

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Police have changed their narrative of why Monterrosa was shot, at first saying Monterrosa was kneeling with his hands above his waist. Vallejo Police Department Chief Shawny Williams later said Monterrosa was crouched in a "tactical" position before he was shot, though police body camera footage released by VPD did not show what Monterrosa was doing in the moments before he was shot.

"This case really reflects that an officer who has a prior history of using deadly force ... was an officer, in our view, [who was] out of control," said civil rights attorney John Burris, who spoke to KQED after his office filed the lawsuit.

"He panicked. He did not see a weapon, although he made some efforts to claim it. But at the end of the day, there was no justification for the shooting. There was no warning given," Burris said.

Sean Monterrosa

Tonn has shot and injured two other suspects since 2015, and he shot at but missed a third, the East Bay Times and Vallejo Times Herald have reported.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the Vallejo Police Department said their "hearts go out to the Monterrosa family during this difficult time."

"We respect their right to initiate legal action and we respect the judicial process to follow," the statement said. "We know this is a painful step for the Monterrosa family. It is our sincere hope that this process will guide the family and our community toward healing."

The Vallejo Police Officers' Association have not yet responded to requests for comment.

The Monterrosa shooting is the most recent police killing in Vallejo to spark outrage in a city where already-existing community concerns with its Police Department have been marred by allegations that evidence in the Monterrosa case was destroyed.

Chief Williams confirmed the windshield the officer fired through was not preserved as evidence. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced last month his office would investigate destruction of evidence in the case.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also weighed in on the case, calling Monterrosa's death a "murder" and criticizing the "destruction of essential evidence" in the investigation.

Monterrosa's death marked the first fatal police shooting in Vallejo since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police violence, including in Vallejo.

The city of Vallejo has paid millions in legal settlements to victims of police violence in recent years. Most recently, according to court documents, the city of Vallejo reached a settlement with the family of Ronell Foster, who was shot and killed by Vallejo Police Officer Ryan McMahon in 2018. McMahon shot and killed the father of two after attempting to stop him for riding a bike without a light.

KQED's Julie Chang and David Marks contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Vallejo Police Department.