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AG Rob Bonta to Review Vallejo Police Killing of Sean Monterrosa, Sharply Criticizes Solano DA

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Nora Monterrosa, mother of Sean Monterrosa, holds a photo of her son while she speaks during a protest on July 11, 2020, demanding justice for Sean and others killed by Vallejo police. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

California's new attorney general said Thursday his office will review the fatal shooting of a young San Francisco man by Vallejo police last June.

Attorney General Rob Bonta repeatedly criticized Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams for not conducting her own review of last year's killing of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, saying she was fully capable but chose not to do so. Bonta's predecessor, Xavier Becerra, also declined to take up the investigation for the same reason.

"I made it clear that she should conduct the investigation," Bonta said. "In the absence of her doing so, we will do so because fairness requires a complete process — not a process that ends with an investigation and a file that's gathering dust on someone's desk somewhere, but a review of that investigation, and a decision."

Abrams had asked the attorney general's office to take over the investigation, saying in June that "an independent review is needed at this time to restore public trust and provide credibility, transparency and oversight."

Bonta's office said local officials' investigation into Monterrosa's death was completed on March 10 and given to Abrams' office for review. But Abrams, it said, attempted to turn the file over to the attorney general's office "without invitation or notice."

A law that goes into effect in July will require the attorney general to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians. But Bonta said it doesn't apply in this case. Abrams' office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

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Monterrosa was killed on June 2 by Vallejo police officer Jarrett Tonn, who fired a semi-automatic rifle five times through the windshield of an unmarked police vehicle, hitting Monterrosa once. Officers were responding to reports of a break-in at a Walgreens.

Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams said at the time that Monterrosa dropped to his knees and put his hands above his waist, revealing what Tonn took to be the butt of a handgun. It turned out to be a 15-inch hammer in the pocket of his sweatshirt.

Police have also changed their narrative of why Monterrosa was shot – Williams later said Monterrosa was crouched in a "tactical" position before he was shot, though police body camera footage did not show what Monterrosa was doing in the moments before he was shot.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing the Monterrosa family in a wrongful-death lawsuit, said he is thankful Bonta will review the case.

“The Vallejo police command staff knew or should have known that this was Tonn’s fourth shooting in five years and by failing to discipline officers for misconduct, Vallejo’s police command staff essentially ratified the bad conduct,” Burris said in a statement.

The windshield, considered a key piece of evidence, was destroyed, leading city officials to seek a criminal investigation into how that happened.

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

Vallejo Police Shootings

The Vallejo Police Department has come under repeated criticism in other cases as well.

Separately, in July, Williams said he was starting an independent investigation after two people in the department said officers had bent their badges to mark on-duty killings.

The department has had several other controversial slayings by police, including that of Willie McCoy, 20, of Suisun City, in February 2019. Vallejo police killed McCoy after he fell asleep with a gun in his lap in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru. Officers fired 55 shots.

Vallejo agreed in November to pay $750,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit by Carl Edwards, a handyman who was left bloodied after he was beaten and choked by Vallejo police in 2017.

Bonta said there is no time frame for completing what he said would be an impartial and thorough investigation of Monterrosa's death.

"Wherever the facts and the law lead, that's where we'll go," he said. "If there is wrongdoing, we'll bring it to light. If the facts do not lead to a charging decision, we will explain it."

State Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat from nearby Napa, praised Bonta's decision, saying he had wanted an independent investigation all along.

"It's crucial that we have a thorough and impartial review of the facts and get accountability for any wrongdoing," Dodd said in a statement.

This story includes reporting from The Associated Press's Don Thompson, and KQED's David Marks and Ericka Cruz Guevarra.

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