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Ten years since Vallejo police’s deadliest year, $12.7 million has been paid to settle civil rights lawsuits

  •   12 min reads
Ten years since Vallejo police’s deadliest year, $12.7 million has been paid to settle civil rights lawsuits
Protesters hold signs calling for justice for Mario Romero at a rally in Oakland in 2019. Photo: Scott Morris.

VALLEJO – In 2012, Vallejo police officers set a grim milestone: their deadliest year in a decade. Officers fired their weapons on nine occasions, killing six people and wounding three. That number would be remarkable in most cities, but it is particularly so in a city of about 116,000 people at the time.

Since then, the department has not had that many shootings in a single year, but it has consistently had the highest rate of police shootings in the region, except in 2021, the only year in the last decade when there have been no shootings involving Vallejo police officers.

Analyses of civil rights payouts have consistently found the Vallejo Police Department pays more per officer than any other agency in the region. Most recently, KTVU found that Vallejo paid $60,185 per officer from 2015 to 2020. That’s twice what Hayward police paid, the next highest rate for an agency included in the analysis.

The spike in fatal shootings in 2012 came months after Officer James Capoot was killed in 2011 pursuing a bank robber. Half involved the same officer, Sean Kenney, who shot and killed three people in five months.

In May, Kenney killed 42-year-old Anton Barrett while Barrett held his wallet, which Kenney said he mistook for a gun. In September, Kenney and his partner killed Mario Romero and wounded a passenger when they opened fire on them while they were sitting in a car. The officers said they saw a gun, but they found only a replica wedged into the car seat.

In October, Kenney killed Jeremiah Moore while Moore was in the midst of a mental health crisis at his home. Kenney told investigators he saw Moore point a rifle at another officer, but witnesses disputed that account.

As part of a pattern at the department, both Kenney and his partner during the Romero shooting, Dustin Joseph, would later be promoted. Kenney was made a detective and his duties included investigating police shootings. Joseph was named officer of the year in 2016.

Sean Kenney.
Sean Kenney. Photo via LinkedIn.

Kenney retired from the department in 2018 and founded Line Driven Strategies, a consulting firm which provides use of force and de-escalation training to departments throughout Northern California. Joseph was hired by the Fairfield Police Department in 2018, where a recent lawsuit accused him of excessive force again, alleging he threw a woman to the ground when she tried to record her husband’s violent arrest.

Two other fatal shootings in 2012 both involved Officer Joseph McCarthy when he was in his third stint in Vallejo police, according to state records. He first joined the department in 1992, joined the Stockton Police Department in 1993, returned to Vallejo in 1998 and stayed for a decade before he joined the Napa Police Department in 2008. In 2012, he returned to Vallejo again, where he stayed until 2020.

McCarthy and Officer Jason Bauer shot and killed 53-year-old Peter Mestler on May 24, 2012, after he allegedly pulled out a BB gun when the officers confronted him.

On July 4, McCarthy and Officer Robert Kerr shot and killed 44-year-old Marshall Tobin in the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store. The officers were responding to a domestic disturbance when they saw Tobin emerge distraught from a Nissan, allegedly with a gun in his waistband.

McCarthy shot and killed another man, 29-year-old Ever Ramon Martinez, following a high-speed pursuit on April 9, 2014. Less than two months later, on May 29, McCarthy received a medal of merit, a life-saving medal and was nominated for officer of the year.

The city of Vallejo has paid $12.7 million in settlements in 24 civil rights lawsuits for incidents since Jan. 1, 2012. Ten of them were for more than $100,000. Three of them were for $2 million or more. The city’s civil rights payouts have been so high, it was forced out of its municipal insurance pool in 2018.

Anton Barrett: $235,000

Vallejo police Officer Sean Kenney shot and killed Anton Barrett Sr. on May 28, 2012, after a pursuit when Barrett pulled out his wallet.

Kenney and Officer Dustin Joseph pursued Barrett and his son that night because their car did not have its headlights on. Barrett Sr. stopped the car at a dark cul-de-sac on the city’s west side and fled on foot. Anton Barrett Jr. hid in nearby bushes. A K-9 officer, Mark Thompson, sicced his dog on Barrett Jr.

Kenney confronted Barrett Sr. between the apartments. He later said that Barrett Sr. reached into his waistband area and began removing “a black metallic object,” so he shot him five times in the chest, abdomen, and back. But the object wasn’t a gun, it was Barrett’s wallet.

Vallejo police investigator Fabio Rodriguez later held Barrett’s metal wallet like he would a gun, photographed it next to a Glock, and “noted that the wallet is similar in shape and size to the frame of the Glock.”

Then-Solano County District Attorney Donald du Bain cleared Kenney of criminal charges. The city settled a lawsuit brought by Barrett’s family for $235,000 in 2015.

Jared Huey: $160,000

Officers Jeremy Huff and Kevin Bartlett killed 17-year-old Jared Huey on June 30, 2012. Huey allegedly robbed a convenience store at gunpoint and fled in a stolen Jeep. Police pursued him and he allegedly crashed the vehicle through the yard of a house and ran.

Police said that officers found Huey hiding in a backyard with a gun and ordered him to drop it. According to police, he refused and pointed it at the officers.

But when Huey’s father sued the department in 2013, the lawsuit alleged that Huey was unarmed when he was shot and had his hands in the air yelling, “Don’t shoot! No! No!” The lawsuit said that the gun was found in a nearby yard after officers searched for 40 minutes.

The city settled the suit for $160,000 in 2015.

Mario Romero.
Mario Romero.

Mario Romero: $2 million

Officers Dustin Joseph and Sean Kenney killed Mario Romero on Sept. 2, 2012. Romero was sitting with his brother-in-law Joseph Johnson in a parked car on Pepper Drive when officers approached them and allegedly told them to put their hands up.

Police said that Romero then opened the car door and crouched behind it, but Johnson said they both complied.

Kenney and Joseph fired at the car, reloaded and fired again, only stopping after Romero slumped back into the driver’s seat. Several of Romero’s family members said they saw an officer fire while standing on the hood of Romero’s car. Police officials later acknowledged that Kenney stood on the hood of the car but said it was only after the shooting was over.

Romero was shot 30 times and died at a local hospital. Johnson was shot once through the hip and survived.

Joseph said he didn’t find a gun when he searched the driver’s side of the vehicle. But Kenney said he later found a pellet gun wedged between the driver’s seat and center console.

The district attorney’s office cleared the officers of criminal charges the following year. In 2015, Vallejo paid a $2 million settlement to Johnson and Romero’s family.

Jeremiah Moore: $250,000

Jeremiah Moore, 29, was shot and killed by Officer Sean Kenney in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2012. Kenney and other Vallejo police officers were called to a home Moore shared with his partner, Jason Jessie. Witnesses said the two were acting strangely, including going outside naked, shouting and smashing the windows of their own cars.

After police arrived and confronted Jessie, police said that Moore emerged from the home and pointed a rifle at one of the officers. Kenney then shot and killed Moore. But some witnesses disputed that Moore was armed, including one who said he was waving his arms uncontrollably when Kenney shot him.

An internal review found Kenney acted within department policy and the DA’s office declined to prosecute him. The city settled a lawsuit brought by Moore’s parents for $250,000 in 2016.

Denise Huskins, Aaron Quinn: $2.5 million

In 2015, Aaron Quinn called Vallejo police to report that his girlfriend, Denise Huskins, had been kidnapped in the middle of the night. Vallejo police Detective Mat Mustard interrogated Quinn for hours, insisting he’d murdered Huskins.

Meanwhile, Huskins was held hostage and allegedly sexually assaulted by Matthew Muller, a former U.S. Marine and Harvard-educated attorney. When Huskins was released days later, Vallejo police called a press conference to announce the “Gone Girl” case was a hoax.

Muller was later arrested in connection with a different home invasion and an FBI investigation connected him to Huskins’ kidnapping. Muller was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. The city settled a lawsuit brought by the couple for $2.5 million in 2018.

Mustard was named Vallejo’s officer of the year for 2015.

The couple released a book about their ordeal, Victim F: From Crime Victims to Suspects to Survivors, last June.

Joseph Ledesma: $175,000

Joseph Ledesma alleged Vallejo Officer Robert DeMarco broke his arms in multiple places and fractured his shin with a baton while responding to a domestic violence call on Dec. 8, 2015.

According to the lawsuit, Ledesma was in his truck attempting to tow a trailer away when DeMarco approached him while his partner, Officer Amanda Blain, went to speak with Ledesma’s wife.

DeMarco pointed his gun and ordered Ledesma out of the vehicle, the lawsuit alleged. The Ledesmas’ pit bull then ran through an open gate. DeMarco shot the dog with his stun gun. Joseph Ledesma got out of the truck and walked across the yard and DeMarco struck him with his baton. The officers then arrested him.

The city settled a suit brought by Ledesma for $175,000 in 2019.

Carl Edwards: $750,000

Carl Edwards sued the city of Vallejo in September 2018, alleging officers tackled and injured him while searching for a person who used a slingshot on children in the neighborhood in July 2017.

According to the lawsuit, Edwards suffered a black eye, a broken nose, cuts to his arms, back, hands, face, head, and required stitches over his right elbow.

Video of the incident shows Officer Spencer Muniz-Bottomley approach Edwards and grab him. Officers Bretton Wagoner and Mark Thompson, who were standing nearby, rushed over. The officers struggled with Edwards as blood poured from his face.

The city settled the suit for $750,000 in the fall of 2020.

Ronell Foster.
Ronell Foster.

Ronell Foster: $5.7 million

Officer Ryan McMahon shot Ronell Foster, 33, after attempting to stop him for not having a headlamp on his bicycle on Feb. 13, 2018.

Foster fled and McMahon chased him. After McMahon caught up with Foster, he shot him with a Taser twice, struck him repeatedly with his flashlight, and shot him in the back and the back of the head. Body camera footage shows Foster grab McMahon’s flashlight before turning away as McMahon began shooting.

Vallejo police said the shooting was justified because Foster was “armed” with McMahon’s flashlight.

The city settled a lawsuit brought by Foster’s family for $5.7 million in 2020, the largest civil rights settlement in the city’s history to date.

Santiago Hutchins: $270,698

Santiago Hutchins was held at gunpoint by Vallejo police Officer David McLaughlin following a confrontation outside a Walnut Creek pizzeria while McLaughlin was off duty on Aug. 11, 2018.

Video of the incident recorded by a bystander shows McLaughlin, dressed in shorts and a white T-shirt, pointing a gun at Hutchins, who had his hands raised above his head.

According to court documents, McLaughlin claimed he told Hutchins that he was going to jail after the man allegedly threatened him. A Walnut Creek police officer and off-duty San Francisco sheriff’s deputy, along with McLaughlin, took Hutchins to the ground.

According to court records, McLaughlin admitted to striking Hutchins in the head after he “resisted attempts to be taken into custody, and refused to comply with commands to stop resisting.”

Vallejo settled the suit for $270,698 last year.

Jose Villalobos: $150,000

Several plainclothes Vallejo police officers approached Jose Villalobos while he was headed to a bathroom inside St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church on Tennessee Street in November 2018.

One of the officers twisted Villalobos’ arm behind his back before wrestling him to the ground, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit further alleged that one of the officers struck Villalobos in the face before he was dragged to the ground, a claim the city denies.

The lawsuit names Vallejo police officers Jerome Bautista, who has since been promoted to lieutenant, Kevin Barreto, and Detective Jarrett Tonn, who shot and killed Sean Monterrosa last year. The city agreed to a $150,000 settlement with Villalobos in 2021.

Still to come

While the city has already paid more than $12.6 million to resolve lawsuits brought against the police department over the last decade, lawsuits regarding some of the highest profile incidents are still pending. The financial toll for the city will likely be much larger as some of these could result in bigger payouts than the city has ever seen before.

The city is still facing more than 20 lawsuits alleging excessive force by officers.

Angel Ramos

Vallejo police officer Zachary Jacobsen shot and killed Angel Ramos, 21, while he was fighting a family member in January 2017.

Jacobsen and his partner, Matt Samida, responded to reports of a fight at a Sacramento Street home during the early morning hours of Jan. 23, 2017. Jacobsen reported that he heard yelling and screaming from the home and saw several people fighting on a second story balcony.

The officer said he saw Ramos holding a large knife at shoulder level – which Ramos’ family strongly denies – and ran from inside the house, mounted another man — later identified as Deshon Wilson — and began making stabbing motions.

But Ramos' family argues that he came out of the house and kneeled over Wilson. They also presented deposition testimony from Wilson, Samida and Officer Jeremy Callinan where each testified that they did not see a knife.

U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley recently denied the city’s motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit, clearing the way for it to proceed to a jury trial. The city has appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Adrian Burrell

Adrian Burrell was violently arrested outside his Vallejo home in 2019 when he attempted to film a traffic stop.

Burrell said that he was relaxing in his home when he saw his cousin outside on his motorcycle with his hands up. Vallejo police Officer David McLaughlin was crouched behind the door of his patrol car, pointing his gun at Burrell's cousin.

Burrell stepped onto the porch. He said his cousin was wearing a motorcycle helmet and couldn't hear the officer, and walked toward McLaughlin, saying, "Hey, he can't hear you. He has his helmet on," according to Burrell.

Officer David McLaughlin holsters his gun
Officer David McLaughlin holsters his gun before confronting Adrian Burrell. Photo courtesy Adrian Burrell.

McLaughlin yelled at Burrell to go back in the house, but instead Burrell, a documentary filmmaker, stayed to film the encounter. McLaughlin then holstered his weapon and walked toward Burrell.

McLaughlin started to handcuff Burrell, told him to “stop resisting,” and pushed him to the ground. Burrell said that McLaughlin smashed his face into a wall and swung him into a pole. He applied the handcuffs so tight it broke the skin on his right hand and left his fingers numb.

Burrell later sued the department.

Willie McCoy

Six Vallejo police officers shot and killed Willie McCoy on Feb. 9, 2019, while responding to a call that a man, later identified as McCoy, was unresponsive inside his vehicle while parked in a Taco Bell drive-thru.

Arriving officers surrounded McCoy’s car with their guns drawn, after Officer Anthony Romero-Cano allegedly saw a gun on McCoy’s lap. Footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras shows McCoy begin to stir and lean forward as officers yelled commands before firing 55 times, killing McCoy.

A review by former San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos found that the officers did not break any laws when they killed McCoy.

Officer Ryan McMahon was fired for the shooting, but not because of the use of force against McCoy, but rather because he opened fire while another officer was in front of him.

A lawsuit brought by McCoy’s family seeks to place the department under court receivership alleging a pattern and practice of civil rights violations in the agency. A judge overseeing the case ruled last year that an allegation that the officers conspired to harm McCoy can remain in the suit.

Sean Monterrosa

Vallejo police Detective Jarrett Tonn fired his rifle five times from the backseat of an unmarked police truck as it pulled up to a Walgreens pharmacy on June 2, 2020, hitting Monterrosa once in the back of the head.

The officers were responding to reports of widespread looting that had swept the region amid protests over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis a week earlier.

It was Tonn’s fourth on-duty shooting and his first fatal one since becoming a police officer in Vallejo in 2014. It was also his first shooting found to be in violation of department policy.

Tonn is facing termination for the shooting. A criminal review by the state Department of Justice is ongoing. If Tonn is charged with homicide, he could be the first Vallejo police officer ever to face criminal charges for an on-duty shooting.

This article has been updated to include a shooting and lawsuit settlement omitted from the initial tally.

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