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PODCAST: The Vallejo police killing of Sean Monterrosa, two years later
Vallejo Police Det. Jarrett Tonn shot Sean Monterrosa in the back of the head on June 2, 2020, amid wide-scale looting following the police murder of George Floyd in Mineapolis. Since then, Tonn’s been fired — and soon likely rehired — and the California Attorney General is still deciding whether he’ll face criminal charges. At the same time, Sean’s sisters, Michelle and Ashley, are trying to avoid burning out while fighting for justice for Sean and on behalf of the dozens of other families impacted by police killings in Vallejo.
In the early morning hours of June 2nd 2020… caravans of burglars continued to break into businesses all over Solano County… stealing what they could… trying to get guns, pot, cash and prescription medications.
As police officers from across the area scattered throughout the city to respond to the roving thefts…
SCANNER: If anybody passes that, we’re coming from Concord.
…Vallejo Police Detective Jarrett Tonn… badge number 673 and a member of the department's SWAT team… was scared.
He’d heard ANTIFA was coming to town.
TONN: And there had also been some online social media chatter about specifically those people and Antifa actually, coming into Vallejo to, to do violence and cause harm.
Shortly after midnight… Tonn and two other detectives witnessed a group of people breaking into the Walgreens on Redwood Street. Captain Lee Horton… badge number 5-43… told them to drive into the parking lot… as he went around the back… hoping to box in the looters.
As the detectives drove in… Horton warned over the radio… that the suspects could have weapons.
HORTON: Wearing all black. It looks like they’re armed. Possibly armed.
Horton would later tell internal investigators… he broadcasted out that the subjects were possibly armed… because one of them had something in his hand.
HORTON: I saw some kind of object in his hand but I couldn't identify what it was.
That person was 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa… a first generation San Francisco native…and the son of Argentinian immigrants. A carpenter by trade… Sean had a roofing hammer tucked into the pocket of his hoodie. Video surveillance footage released by Vallejo police shows him trying to break into a locked cabinet in the Walgreens pharmacy… just minutes before he was killed.
SCANNER: Shots fired. Suspect down.
DISPATCHER: Copy. Shots fired, suspect down on Redwood.
Tonn… who had already been involved in three shootings since joining Vallejo police in 2014… was sitting in the middle of the backseat of an unmarked pickup truck. Before it had even come to a full stop… he fired his high-powered rifle five times through the truck’s windshield… hitting Monterrosa once in the back of the head… killing him instantly.
TONN: Hey, he pointed a gun at us.
TONN 2: Hey, he tried to pull a gun out on you know, pointed a gun at us.
Despite finding out that the suspected gun was actually a hammer… Vallejo internal affairs investigator… Detective Kevin Rose… badge number 680… let Tonn run with the idea that he found himself in immediate danger.
ROSE: Do you feel like you had any other options?
TONN: No, none whatsoever.
ROSE: Were the suspects immediate actions prior to your firing your weapon indicative of any other action to you?
TONN: The only thing and again, this is why I say, now that I know after the fact I'm 100% baffled of what could have happened. Everything he did at that time, and still my mind that was the actions of someone who is going to take you know, you know, attack us and try to kill us…
Sean’s death came in the middle of international protests over the police murder of George Floyd… which happend just a week earlier. Sean’s killing thrust his older sister Michelle… and younger sister Ashley… first into a panicked rush for answers… and now a years-long quest for justice… that they’re still figuring out how to sustain.
MICHELLE: Fuck the police, fuck the police, fuck the pigs, took my brother, too. And I don’t want anyone to go through what we went through. Enough is enough…
ASHLEY: We just buried our brother yesterday…
The Monterrosa sisters vowed to be the last family to have a loved one killed by the Vallejo Police Department. Officers there have shot and killed 18 people since 2010.
As of this recording… current Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams… the first Black man to hold the seat… has managed to keep his officers from killing anyone for the last two years… something the department hasn’t been able to do for decades.
But following the killing of Sean Monterrosa… something different happened.
KQED’s THE BAY: Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Vallejo police chief Shawny Williams has served a notice of intent to fire officer Jarrett Taan who shot and killed 22 year old Sean Monterosa in June of last year.
Sukey Lewis: This is a really big step for the city in terms of being able to point to something to show you know civilians who have been criticizing the police department and the accountability process that look we're firing moving to fire this officer who you know was involved in this very high profile controversial shooting.
In December… Jarett Tonn became the first Vallejo police officer in at least 20 years to lose his job… directly related to killing someone on-duty. It was one of several reforms Michelle and Ashley are happy to see finally happening within the Vallejo Police Department.
MICHELLE: We've seen progress and it took a lot for us to step back and kind of analyze the wins the many victories and wins we've had in between, obviously, the Attorney General taking on the case was huge too, Tonn being fired is huge.
That was until last Friday… when sources confirmed to the Vallejo Sun that Jarrett Tonn is likely to get his job back… because a mandatory review hearing for law enforcement officers facing discipline… overturned his termination for use of force violations.
While the Monterrosa family was upset about Tonn returning to the Vallejo Police Department… they still await to hear whether he’ll be charged with a crime.
MICHELLE: There's a lot of little things playing but I don't think the outcomes are any different, or demands are still always the same… the California DOJ can bring, go arrest him and bring those charges forward.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta agreed to investigate Monterrosa’s killing… but only after his predecessor… Xavier Becerra… and Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams… both refused.
BONTA: Jobs have easy parts and they have hard parts and it’s really important that we do all the parts of our jobs. Sometimes a specific issue or case has a lot of public interest and public scrutiny, we must still do our job in those cases.
The shooting remains a political issue in the hotly contested Solano County DA’s race. Abrams' opponent… Chief Deputy DA Sharon Henry… says Abrams abdicated her responsibility.
HENRY: Officer involved shootings, those decisions should be made by the local district attorney. If a shooting happens in Solano County, the decision should be made by the Solano County DA.
My name is Brian Krans. I’m a reporter with the Vallejo Sun. In this episode… we’re going to look back on the Vallejo police killing of Sean Monterrosa two years later…
ONE YEAR RALLY: Song: “...Sean Monterrosa…”
We’re also going to cover why the police killing is still a major political issue at the county and state level… and hear from the Monterrosa sisters about their fight for justice… while grieving in public… and still trying to find some semblance of normalcy in their lives.
ASHLEY: We can scream and bleed and do whatever we can and sometimes they just won't even listen. And it’s like we're screaming at a brick wall. Sometimes that's what it feels. Yeah.
MICHELLE: It's just a lot and you know, the system expects families to keep going, keep trying to like, find normality after all, all of this, and it's hard for everyone. Everyone interprets trauma differently. But it's just fucked up [laughs]. Yeah
[fade up children playing at school]
ASHLEY: This is our elementary school. All three of us grew up here. So this is called Junipero Serra elementary school.
As the two-year anniversary of Sean Monterrosa’s death approached… I met Ashley and Michelle at the elementary school in San Francisco that they and their brother all attended. Named for a Spanish missionary who helped colonize California… Ashley said school officials are considering renaming the school after their brother.
ASHLEY: They've already renamed their library into the Sean Monterosa resource library. So that's what that's called at the school. But the principal also let us create this space when Sean first passed away, we would gather here and just have like vigils and then eventually it became the Sean Monterosa Knowledge Little Free Library.
The school’s fence facing Holly Park is now covered in plywood boards… featuring art honoring Sean… who loved to draw… read… and work on a very specific make and model of car. Here’s Michelle…
MICHELLE: And then this one is our favorite, because it really just shows who Sean was on the last one with his 1980 El Camino, the city bridge along his back, he loved always talking about labor, he was a laborer, he was a construction worker. So tying it to Cesar Chavez and the labor movement, he loved to wear Ben Davis, so how to incorporate that there and then the toucan bird for him. And that one talking about Black and Brown solidarity, you know, knowing that Sean, you know, went out fighting for George Floyd to have his interpretation of how he was how he channeled his anger. So really incorporating like the Black and Brown solidarity
The last text message that Sean Monterrosa sent to his sisters… asked them to sign a petition seeking justice for George Floyd… which was echoed at protests days later… outside the Walgreens where he was killed…
MAN: His last text message to his sisters was justice for George Floyd.
On May 25th, 2020… then-Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. Video of it went viral… sparking worldwide protests.
In Vallejo… as he later recounted in an interview with police investigators… Detective Jarrett Tonn was tasked with monitoring online traffic… to see if any uprising was headed their way.
TONN: In the last week or so when the protests from the George Floyd death started occurring. One of my duties was to monitor social media and other news outlets to see if there might be any activity in the city of Vallejo, specifically on unlawful riots and looting, not peaceful protests so much, but….
After killing Sean Monterrosa in response… Tonn went on to say he was aware of attacks against law enforcement officers.
TONN: And during that time, just I was aware, both from the news and then also from various intelligence briefings that I received through email Department email, that the situations were becoming increasingly violent across the country. There had been numerous attacks against law enforcement. I was aware that over the weekend, I believe, Thursday or Friday, a federal security officer was killed in what appeared to be a fairly well coordinated drive by ambush style attack with a high powered rifle.
That ambush killing was actually committed by Steven Carrillo… a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationed at nearby Travis Air Force base… on May 29th.
Federal investigators would later determine that Carrillo was affiliated with the Boogaloo movement… a loosely aligned far-right group organized online… that sought to target law enforcement officers and spark a second civil war.
Carrillo had used the George Floyd protests in Oakland as cover to murder police officers… but Tonn said that he was concerned about Antifa… or people who protested against facscism.
TONN: A lot of those bulletins focused on the fact that there was increasingly well coordinated and good communication between suspects who are trying to coordinate violent efforts against law enforcement that one of the groups that specifically came up was Antifa members in the Bay Area.
The same night as the protests in Oakland… seven people were arrested in Vallejo… as about a hundred people clashed with police… including what police said included lobbing rocks and bottles at police headquarters.
Tonn phrased it as a pseudo-coup.
TONN: there was an attempt in the city of Vallejo to take over the police department. There was a riot that ensued and a mob tried to take over the police department. And I know I think dozens of mobile field force officers from even out of county had to come and supplement our police forces due to staffing levels. And ultimately, they were pushed back. But I know that there had been threats.
Those threats included groups of cars raiding through stores… some seeing looting as a form of protest against the systematic inequality that erupts when police do things like confidently kill a Black man like George Floyd… knowing they’re being recorded.
The night of June 1st, 2020… Tonn was working with fellow Vallejo police detectives… patrolling the city in a silver Ford F-150 pickup.
TONN: And this was just ongoing. I've been a cop for almost 15 years going on. And I've never seen anything like tonight. We're just complete and utter just pervasive criminal activity sweeping through a city like this.
Detective Bretton Wagoner… badge number 6-50… was driving … with Wesley Pittman… badge number 7-hundred… in the passenger seat. Tonn was in the backseat.
They had just finished responding to a report of men with masks that didn’t pan out… when they heard Captain Lee Horton announce over the radio that he was witnessing a burglary in progress… at a Walgreens… in Central Vallejo.
HORTON: Multiple vehicles pulled up to Walgreens went through the pharmacy window. They’re inside.
Tonn told Wagoner to pull up next to Horton… making sure to roll the window down… so Horton would recognize they were police officers.
TONN: That's a fairly new truck so I don't even know who you know realizes it's a cop car and I didn't want to something something bad to happen because of Miscommunication or not him not knowing. So we pulled up next to him, rolled our window down, talked to him.
Horton came up with a plan.
TONN: He goes, I'll go this way pointing to the north entrance, which is on the north side of the pharmacy off of Broadway. And he goes, You guys take that side, pointing to the south entrance that's off of Redwood. And we'll block him in. So we start moving in, and second, half a second, two seconds before coming into contact, we were going to jump out and hold them at gunpoint, get on the radio and says they're armed. Maybe said it several times.
As they pulled into the Walgreens parking lot… Tonn said he saw a person dressed in black and running…
TONN: And one of the suspects wearing a black hoodie runs over from the drive thru area towards a black car. And my immediate thought is, he's going to get in the car, this is going to be a pursuit.
Tonn described what he saw the person in black do next…
TONN: Stops, turns towards me, turns towards our vehicle, and gets down in what looks like a kneeling shooting position where he gets down. And I can tell you both or one his one of his knees were down.
Tonn grew emotional as he remembered what happened.
TONN: When it happens like that, you're like, I immediately went through my head, we’re getting into a shootout, 100% we’re getting into a shootout.
ROSE: How did that make you feel?
TONN: I was scared, I was scared for me but really I was scared for my partners because they're getting out of the car.
Tonn fired five times… and then turned on his body camera… the audio taking 30 seconds to catch up…
TONN: “Fucking stupid!”
After the shooting… Horton reassured Tonn.
HORTON: It’s going to be okay. You’ve been through this before. Take deep breaths. Calm down.
TONN: I’m going to put this in someone’s car.
As Horton would tell investigators hours later… he thought Sean Monterrosa was killed nearly instantly.
HORTON: We went and checked the suspect. It was apparent to me that he was deceased, but we began life saving efforts.
Still… Vallejo police wouldn’t announce their latest shooting had been fatal for another 38 and a half hours.
In that time… Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa were left scrambling for answers. A woman their brother had been seeing called to say he had been shot… but they couldn’t find out much else. Here’s Ashley recounting the story in an interview months later.
ASHLEY: The time we ran out was like 1:15 in the morning. So Sean was already dead by then, but we had no idea. So we drive over to Michelle's driving as fast as she can. We get there in like 30 minutes.
The sisters went to the hospital… to the Walgreens… to the Vallejo police station… and back to the crime scene. They finally spoke on the phone with a Vallejo police watch commander.
ASHLEY: He was like, well, you're just gonna find out on the press, like in the news, just like everyone else
MICHELLE: And hung up. And that's already four in the morning. That's when I looked at Ashley and I said, I think it's just time for us to go home and regroup and we'll figure it out.
They learned that their brother was dead… but his last words to them gave them a mission…
MICHELLE: And especially his last text message to us, you know, not even, I'll see you tomorrow, let's go get breakfast, you know, any thing that siblings would usually say to each other? He was like, Can you just help me by signing a petition for George Floyd. It's almost, such like, a divine spiritual thing, you know, that he left this earth by fighting for someone who went out the way he did, but also it's hurtful to know that that's the way my brother's life was ended to 40 minutes afterwards.
ASHLEY: But it's also a message the way I take it, as you know, Sean was murdered. But here, he left a valuable piece of information like, here's the torch, I'm gone, but you run with the torch. And that's what we've been doing since.
Soon, Ashley and Michelle would be attending and leading protests in Vallejo for months…
MICHELLE: Fuck the pigs! They took my brother, too. And I don’t want any kids to have to go through what our family is going through. Enough is fucking enough!
ALISHA SADLER: Enough is enough.
ASHLEY: We just buried our brother yesterday.
MICHELLE: We just buried Sean yesterday and I’m out here fighting with everyone else! Shit ain’t fucking right! And I don’t want anybody, any kids here to deal with the trauma that this world has instituted
Sean’s obituary said he was QUOTE “murdered by an officer of the Vallejo Police Department while on his knees with his hands raised.” END QUOTE
ABRAMS: In the interest of safety and justice, I am here today to announce that I’m recusing myself and our office from reviewing the two recent officer-involved fatal incidents in the city of Vallejo.
A month after the shooting… in a video message… Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams announced that she would not be the person to make the decision whether to charge the officers… both in Monterrosa’s case… and in the shooting death of Willie McCoy.
Six Vallejo police officers fired 55 times at McCoy after he was found unresponsive in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru… on February 9th, 20-19. He was hit 38 times and died at the scene.
Abrams said she believed the state Attorney General’s Office should investigate those two police killings… because bills before California lawmakers at the time… would compel that office to do so.
ABRAMS: In the spirit of this legislation and given the exceptional circumstances of the magnitude of the perceived conflict in the current cases, lack of public trust from some community members, it is my professional judgment, in consultation with my executive team, that our office must recuse itself from any further review of these two cases.
But then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra also refused to investigate… leaving Monterrosa’s case in limbo… where no prosecutor would commit to even making a decision about whether Detective Jarrett Tonn’s actions that night were lawful.
ABC7: Protesters gathered outside Governor Gavin Newsom’s home Friday afternoon on the four month anniversary of Vallejo police shooting and killing Sean Monterrosa, in the crowd, sisters Ashley and Michelle…
Ashley and Michelle were arrested in October 2020 protesting outside of Governor Gavin Newsom’s home… amid an unrelenting pandemic… and smoky air conditions due to wildfires. They wanted the governor to meet with them… and say something about their brother’s case.
After their arrests and release from jail… Newsom addressed the shooting in response to a question from ABC7 reporter Melanie Woodrow.
NEWSOM : I’ve asked my staff to take a much more detailed look at exactly why the Attorney General chose not to move forward in terms of the criminal investigation though I’m very pleased and grateful with the Attorney General for moving forward as it relates to police practices in that jurisdiction.
Reflecting on the arrest more than a year later… Michelle Monterrosa said that they felt like their elected officials had failed them.
MICHELLE: AG Beccera failed us. Krishna Abrams failed us, of course.
MICHELLE: We're just tired of no one doing anything. The system already failing us. We already knew that. The system is built this way. But you know, for us to actually like take action into our own hands. I almost forgot we got arrested. Sometimes I forget. It’s important we journal.
ASHLEY: We really lose track of what we’ve done.
MICHELLE: Yeah, yeah.
It would be nearly a year before a prosecutor would agree to review the case. After Becerra was appointed to President Joe Biden’s cabinet in January 2021… Newsom appointed state Assemblymember Rob Bonta as the state’s next Attorney General.
On May 13th, 2021… Bonta finally agreed to take up the investigation into Vallejo police’s latest fatal shooting.
BONTA [1:05]: Many of you know that with respect to the tragic case of Sean Monterrosa, who was killed in an officer-involved shooting on June 2nd, 2020, almost a year-ago now. That for some time there has been great uncertainty and lack of clarity with respect to what is happening next. The family is left unsure, the community is left unsure, the state is left unsure about what the next steps will be.
In the process, Bonta criticized Abrams for her recusal.
BONTA: It is unfortunate that up to this point the Solano County District Attorney has not acted, as many of you know, the Solano County District Attorney has recused herself when there was no basis to do so, there is no actual conflict under the law. She has repeatedly stated that she can be impartial, and thorough, and fair and that she would be in this case and that is her job to represent the people in cases in the criminal justice system. The Solano County District Attorney has indicated that she can do that, and in my view, she should do that.
ONE YEAR RALLY: Say his name… Sean Monterrosa. Say his name… Sean Monterrosa. No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace.
On June 6, 2021… the Monterrosa sisters hosted a rally outside of San Francisco City Hall to mark one year since police killed their brother. Hundreds of people gathered to hear dozens of speakers… many of them family members of others who had been killed by police across the region… state… and country.
Here’s Ashley speaking at that rally…
ASHLEY: For almost a year our family has fought constantly to keep Sean's name in the press to keep fighting for justice. And despite our grief, exhaustion and pain.
The announcement that an investigation will take place is just the first step. But we are relieved that action will finally be taken. We are encouraged by the fact that this will be done by Attorney General Rob Bonta and the Department of Justice directly. It feels incredibly meaningful to finally receive the respect our family and Sean deserved for the past nearly 12 months one year now.
Ultimately, we want justice for Sean. And we want that justice to mean that this can't happen to anyone anywhere else and best believe we're pushing to be the last family affected by Vallejo Police Department.
After a year of steady protesting against police violence across the country… Michelle and Ashley eased off from such an aggressive public organizing schedule.
MICHELLE: After Sean's one year anniversary, we've taken the time to really like, kind of step back and process our own grief and like work on ourselves to sustain ourselves to keep going.
Ashley recalled how her brother was killed just before her 20th birthday… which she felt made her grow up faster through trauma… and having her pain be so readily available to the public.
ASHLEY: In this space, sometimes you're just known for your loved one…
MICHELLE: Or your trauma.
ASHLEY: …and your trauma. And we've learned throughout this journey that we don't always want to wear our scars on our sleeves.
ASHLEY: No one talks about the burn out. Everyone talks about, oh, you have to be in the streets every day in protest. And like, if you're not, then you're not doing anything for your loved one. But that's how we were like, trained to think for like the whole year.
ASHLEY: But it's hard when you're grieving in public and you have to fight the system. And there's so much stuff in between, and then you're like, Okay, now it's time to do me, but it's really hard to like, set those boundaries and separate all those things apart from each other.
Michelle said it’s taken time to unpack what they were forced to process… from how their brother was killed by police during mass protests following a police killing… and how the department handled it all.
MICHELLE: But also, you know, recognize that we turned our pain into power and purpose and something and not allowing those obviously we we've we're still in pain, you know, and from those…
ASHLEY: It looks different two years later, and
MICHELLE: …those first 48 hours you know, us look trying to find Sean, being lied to, giving the wild goose chase, the watch commander telling us to find out on TV like everyone else, and then you know, the Vallejo Police Department not even bothering calling our family, you know, just calling us to get a statement. Like, there's just so much that we had to really sit home and like, unpack, like, you know, yes, we lost our brother. Yes, we lost him the way we did, but like, just even grieving so publicly.
ASHLEY: And having to plan a funeral doing interviews with anybody who would want to hear the story. At that time, it was just a really hard time.
KRISTEN SZE: The nearly year long independent administrative investigation into a Vallejo police officer’s fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa has concluded.
DAN ASHLEY: Now, the independent investigation found the officer’s use of force was “not objectively reasonable.”
In December 2021… Vallejo police released a trove of records from the department's investigation into the Monterrosa shooting… conducted by an outside firm… the OIR Group.
MELANIE WOODROW: In its 66-page report, an independent police oversight and review group, found a Vallejo police officer’ use of force was not “objectively reasonable” when he shot and killed Sean Monterrosa through the windshield from the backseat of an unmarked…
The investigators also found that Bretton Wagoner… the driver of the truck… passenger Wesley Pittman… and their commander… Captain Lee Horton… all violated department policies… including failing to de-escalate the situation… and unsatisfactory work product.
Wagoner had left the department months prior to become a Napa County Sheriff’s deputy. Horton retired days before the announcement. Pittman was given a letter of reprimand.
But just last week, the Vallejo Sun learned that a mandatory review hearing had overturned Tonn’s use of force violations and termination. The city may challenge the findings… but it could mean that Tonn will return to the department.
Michelle Monterrosa said that she still thinks the department needs more oversight…
MICHELLE: I'm just shocked that there's no federal monitor yet on the Vallejo Police Department. It's, it's something that should have been in place long time ago, then Willie, Sean, Angel, Ronell. They all probably be here.
She’s referring to the men Vallejo police killed in the years before Monterrosa… Willie McCoy… Angel Ramos… and Ronell Foster. She also referenced the officers’ tradition of bending the tips of their badges following a shooting… which the city is refusing to release a report about.
MICHELLE: We have already know that they're aware of the badge bending stuff. So you know, another new demand of ours is just for the full report to come out…
She also mentioned the city attorney… who continues to shield the report from the public…
…you know, Veronica Nebb, to stop hiding and stop trying to not release it.
The families of those impacted by police violence are also seeking a change in the Solano County District Attorney’s Office. Here’s Ashley Monterrosa again.
ASHLEY: I feel like this DA race is really important. There needs to be more attention going on. Like I don't know what's going on for the residents of Solano County, but like, I really hope they vote for Sharon Henry. And not that like these people in power are like our saviors, but we really hope that what else does Solano County have to lose? Like what else we got to lose? Like there's already a shitty DA.
This last February… Chief Deputy District Attorney Sharon Henry announced she would run against her boss… Krishna Abrams… for Solano County DA… citing in her campaign Abrams’ recusals from the McCoy and Monterrosa investigations.
In an interview with the Sun shortly before announcing her candidacy… Henry cited the recusals as a main reason she decided to run.
HENRY: I disagree with, you know, trying to turn those cases over to another agency. Because I feel that there was no, absolutely no conflict in making those decisions.
SCOTT: There are grounds for recusal just,
HENRY: Well, I, I mean, what were the grounds?
During a candidate forum last month hosted by the ACLU of Solano County and Solano Community College… Abrams said that she thought she had restored trust in the community.
ABRAMS: I ran for DA in 2014, to restore the public's trust in the DA’s office and I feel like we've done that and and more I feel like we've had so many calls accomplishments in the last almost eight years.
Abrams even bragged about creating a task force to investigate police shootings… only after she refused to investigate two of the most controversial ones in recent years.
ABRAMS: One of the first things that I'm really proud about one of the most important things it was my vision back in 2015, to have a Major Crimes Task Force that would independently investigate officer-involved fatal incidents, so that there wasn't the perception that agencies were investigating their own.
And Abrams even used Sean Monterrosa’s case as an example of why police agencies don’t need more oversight.
ABRAMS: There's also the attorney general, as we saw after the Sean Monterrosa. When he was killed on June 2, we saw that on June 5, the Attorney General's office came down and took the extraordinary step to oversee the Vallejo Police Department for the next three years. And so they're overseeing Vallejo. So that's some oversight that's already occurring.
Abrams has been endorsed by every police officers association in the county… except for Vallejo… which made no endorsement.
Henry… however… argues that Abrams is not truly independent from law enforcement agencies in the county.
HENRY: Yes, we have to work with all law enforcement officers, you know, our police officers, I, I want to do that. Right. But it's an independent prosecutorial agency. And we have to maintain that independence and not be subjected to, you know, certain interest groups, you know, police agencies, you know, what have you, we have to be independent of all of that.
No matter who voters choose for district attorney on June 7th… the Solano County DA’s office won’t be the agency to determine whether or not to charge Jarrett Tonn.
Two years after their brother was killed… Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa are still waiting on an answer from the state Attorney General’s office… something they didn’t expect before Bonta was formally elected to the job.
ASHLEY: It's frustrating. But then when we look at the timeline, we've made progress, regardless. Unfortunately, there's some families who haven't even gotten to where we are. And it's really sad.
As they wait… Ashley said sometimes she can’t help but wonder if Tonn reflects on the outcomes of his actions.
ASHLEY: It's like, “Who the fuck were you to be the judge, jury and executioner on June 2?” you know, at that time, and then like, I wonder if he thinks about the people he's hurt, you know, like the family us? Like, I wonder like, what if he even thinks about all of these factors or like if he watches like the Justice for Sean page, like, I don't know, I don't know this guy. So but I also will sometimes think about, like, what does he feel about all this?
The Monterrosa sisters try to be patient… because they know that as much as they protest… and as hard as they push for it… justice takes time… if it comes at all.
MICHELLE: But I think if we didn't heal ourselves, I mean, we're still healing. But if we didn't like really sit with ourselves, and like process those emotions right now, we'd probably be at Bonta's house or something.
Ashley said that she feels like they need to think carefully about their actions… and what it might mean for the people of Vallejo… and other people affected by police violence.
ASHLEY: It's really hard. It's just like a chess game. Like something you have to like, like, if if we're thinking about doing something for our brother's case, we have to think to think like 10 steps after like, what's the outcome? How's this gonna affect people? What's that gonna look like? So it goes a lot, like just fighting for like, our brother and just people fighting for their families. There's a lot that goes into it.
At the same time… Ashley and Michelle are just trying to live their lives as young women… while often being recognized just for being the sisters of Sean Monterrosa. Here’s Michelle.
MICHELLE: Me going to school here in San Francisco, I'm at San Francisco State, people already recognize me from my brother's case being last name, just the last name through everything. So this semester, I went fully online, I'm so full time but fully online. And I didn't go in to class presenting myself as like Michelle Monterosa, sister of Sean. I'm like, No, I had to find my own identity and remind myself who I was before even going through this tragic experiences.
But even if their brother isn’t here with them… they feel like he’s still taking care of them.
MICHELLE: Even though he was a middle child, he really stepped up to the plate. Like, he just wanted to take care of everybody. And through all this grief throughout everything, you know, he's taking care of us. And, you know, he's, he's helping align things for us. And, you know, I really do feel that his case and everything, um, it's gonna bring change to the city of Vallejo.
And reminders of him are everywhere.
MICHELLE: I see a hummingbird around or I see a 19 the same model 1980 El Camino just drive by. And it's something that like, people tell me to pay attention to those signs, because it really shows you like your loved ones with you. And like it really like, I'm not kidding, like, anytime we have to do something, like one of those things show up and I'm just like, Ashley look,
ASHLEY: Or it’s like a Toucan thing
MICHELLE: Yeah, and it's just like, you know, I don't know, if we just pay attention to things more or it's like coincidence, but definitely, it helps us feel like you know, he's with us, no matter what, whatever path and work we want to do, aside from this. And I know he's proud of the accomplishments we've had collectively. And yeah but definitely not living in, in sadness anymore. You know, obviously, we're still in pain and inside, and we show our pain and trauma differently. But Sean wouldn't want us to experience joy, Sean would want us to, you know, take mom and dad out for a nice dinner or walk at the beach, things he really wanted to do with them, too.
This has been a production of the Vallejo Sun. This episode was written and reported by Scott Morris and myself… Brian Krans. Together with John Glidden… we are the Vallejo Sun… a small but productive newsroom covering Vallejo and Solano County.
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Brian Krans is a reporter in the East Bay who covers public health, from cops to COVID. He has written for the Oaklandside, Healthline, California Healthline and the Appeal.
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