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Vallejo detective facing termination said there was no option ‘whatsoever’ but to kill Sean Monterrosa

  •   10 min reads
Vallejo detective facing termination said there was no option ‘whatsoever’ but to kill Sean Monterrosa
A still from Detective Jarrett Tonn's body camera just after he shot Sean Monterrosa.

Jarrett Tonn told a fellow detective at the Vallejo Police Department that he had no other option “whatsoever” than to fire his Colt M4 Commando rifle from the backseat of an unmarked Ford F-150 pickup truck and kill Sean Monterrosa outside of a Walgreens on June 2, 2020, according to audio interviews recently made public.

On Dec. 1, Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams sent a letter to Tonn indicating he would be fired for the shooting.

Vallejo police released the trove of evidence and findings late Thursday, 18 months to the day after Moneterrosa’s killing. The interviews with Tonn provide new insight into Tonn’s thinking as he killed Monterrosa amid large-scale protests, civil unrest and commercial burglaries following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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.

The newly released files included a 66-page report from the OIR Group, a firm the city of Vallejo hired to conduct the investigation. It concluded Tonn’s use of deadly force wasn’t reasonable and he and other officers and a now-retired captain violated several department policies by failing, among other things, to explore their options besides confronting suspected commercial burglars head-on.

Vallejo previously brought in the OIR Group to evaluate its policies and general climate in the department. It reported that Vallejo police carried an “us against the world” mentality, meaning the department was cantankerous with residents, activists, and the media.

Thursday’s disclosure also contained redacted audio files of interviews with key players as Vallejo detectives investigated their own. The audio files suggest these types of post-shooting interviews receive little push-back from Vallejo police and investigators with the Solano County District Attorney's Office, which is typically tasked with reviewing each police shooting in their jurisdiction. There have been 32 shootings involving Vallejo police in the last decade, with 18 of them fatal.

In only one of those, the Feb. 9, 2019 killing of Willie McCoy Jr., has an officer been fired for his involvement in a shooting. Ryan McMahon was fired in October 2020 for endangering another officer while firing at McCoy, but not for his killing of Ronell Foster on Feb. 13, 2018. The city of Vallejo has since settled a lawsuit from Foster’s family for $5.7 million, the highest of Vallejo’s settlements over a police killing to date.

The city this year settled a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from an incident involving Tonn and the alleged assault of a man at an area church for $150,000.

Spokespeople for the city of Vallejo and Vallejo police, as well as Williams, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Reached Tuesday, Tonn declined to comment for this report.

Tonn: reports said Antifa coming to Vallejo

Tonn — who still has not been officially named as the shooter and whose name remains redacted from Vallejo police reports — was on Vallejo’s Crime Reduction and SWAT teams. He said in nearly an hour of redacted interviews with a fellow Vallejo detective that he was told earlier on June 1 that he was on standby in case he was needed to respond to more widespread looting and unrest similar to the night before which, as Tonn described it, included a “mob” and “the attempted takeover of the police department.”

Tonn said several times that the people coming to Vallejo were not part of peaceful protests. Seven people were arrested the previous night as about 100 people clashed with police, including what police said included throwing rocks and bottles at police headquarters.

The last text message 22-year-old Monterrosa sent his sisters, Michelle and Ashley, was asking them to sign a petition for George Floyd.

In response to questions from Vallejo Det. Kevin Rose beginning around 9:30 a.m. on June 2, 2020 — more than nine hours after Tonn killed Monterrosa —  Tonn said that week he’d been assigned to monitor social media and news reports to see if any “unlawful riots and looting” were headed for Vallejo following Floyd’s murder. He said “situations were becoming increasingly violent across the country,” including “numerous attacks against law enforcement,” like a federal security officer who was killed in Oakland, which was later determined to have been carried out by right-wing extremists.

Jarrett Tonn
Jarrett Tonn. Photo: Vallejo Police Department.

Tonn said bulletins sent to police “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” and “one of the groups that specifically came up was Antifa members in the Bay Area.”

“There had also been some online social media chatter about specifically those people and Antifa actually, coming into Vallejo to do violence and cause harm,” Tonn said.

There have been no other assertions that actions in Vallejo in early June 2020 were organized by people claiming to represent Antifa, or anti-fascist activists who have at times clashed with right-wing extremists and police during street protests. Investigators did not press Tonn further regarding his alleged knowledge about who was suspected to be coming into Vallejo during that time.

Tonn said the night’s events, such as reports of people attempting to break into local gun stores, had him “on edge.” He worried about his and other officers’ safety.  

“I've never seen a such a violent, pervasive situation as long as I've been a cop,” Tonn said. “These aren't people that you can let your guard [down] around, if you want to survive, if you want to live because they are shooting at people.”

Tonn: firing through a windshield is a ‘crapshoot’

Before responding to a burglary in progress at the Walgreens on Redwood Street, Tonn and fellow Vallejo police officers Bretton Wagoner and Wesley Pittman were riding together in the unmarked F-150. Tonn was seated in the backseat, holding his Colt M4. They met up with their commanding officer, Capt. Lee Horton, near the store and witnessed people breaking into the pharmacy drive-thru window. They soon drove into the parking lot where one fleeing vehicle collided with Horton’s vehicle.

“It looks like they’re armed, possibly armed,” Horton broadcasted on police radio.  

Horton told investigators later that morning that he broadcast that he thought people at Walgreens could be armed — which Tonn took to mean with firearms — because he saw “some kind of object” in Monterrosa’s right hand “and just his mannerisms.”

“He looked very serious,” Horton said.

Tonn told investigators that Monterrosa, dressed in all black, was on either one or both of his knees with “his hands up” near his stomach. Tonn said that, along with Horton’s broadcast, made him believe that Moneterrosa was reaching for a gun in his waistband with intentions of firing at police.

“I'm one of those people that watches any shooting video online. I watch them all,” Tonn said. “And it's like, if you're gonna flee, you flee. And that's what everyone else has done... When he turned in and took that crouch position, and then reached in and I saw what we, at the time, I thought was the handle of a gun. I'm like, ‘Shoot out.’”

Tonn said he fired from the truck’s back seat through its windshield several times.

“It's really a crapshoot if a round hits your target through a window,” Tonn said. “If you're going to shoot, that's not the time to fire one round and evaluate, because it's too late at that point.”

Tonn told investigators he could “clearly” see Monterrosa wasn’t fleeing and interpreted Monterrosa’s stance to mean Monterrosa was about to square off and shoot at arriving police so others could flee.

“I don't know what he was thinking,” Tonn said. “Everything he did was consistent with having a gun and you're getting ready to start shooting at the police.”

After shooting Monterrosa, Tonn repeated his incorrect initial assessment that Monterrosa had a gun. Tonn cursed in frustration after realizing what he thought was the handle of a gun was actually a hammer.

“This is not what I needed tonight,” Tonn said to Horton.

‘None whatsoever’

One of Tonn’s five rounds hit Monterrosa in the back of the head, according to the coroner’s report, killing him nearly instantly. He had a roofing hammer in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Surveillance footage showed he used the hammer to attempt to pry open a metal cabinet inside the Walgreens minutes before he was killed.

Monterrosa’s death prompted large protests in Vallejo and his native San Francisco. It spurred performative action from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and even House Speaker  Nancy Pelosi, as protests over George Floyd’s murder continued worldwide in a surge of civil activism during a worsening pandemic.

Protesters for Sean Monterrosa.
The shooting of Sean Monterrosa spurred protests. Photo: Brian Krans.

“Honestly, this is not something anybody wants to do given our climate,” Tonn told his department’s investigators hours after killing Monterrosa. “This is not anything that I want to do at all, especially now with what's going on.”  

“Do you feel like you had any other options?” Rose asked Tonn.

“No, none whatsoever,” Tonn replied.

But OIR investigators say Tonn’s use of deadly force was unreasonable, and he, Wagoner and Pittman violated department policies for failing to plan or communicate, creating a dangerous situation for all involved. Investigators also faulted the three officers in the truck and Horton for not attempting to de-escalate the situation and unsatisfactory work performance.

The OIR report stated Horton bore a “significant responsibility for this lapse of leadership.” He officially retired on Thanksgiving this year, one week before the department disclosed the report and other investigative files.

Despite the OIR Group finding policy violations by four officers, Chief Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner said Wednesday that only the shooting officer had received a notice of intent to discipline and he did not know if any other officers would be disciplined for their role in the shooting.

OIR report spurs mixed reactions

Ashley Monterrosa, Sean’s younger sister, said she was glad the OIR Group came to the conclusions it did in her brother’s killing, especially because she expected them to find in favor of the police.

“But this time around, they did recognize that it wasn't objectively reasonable,” she said.

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa, Sean’s older sister, together protested in front of the home of Gov. Gavin Newsom last October. They and about 15 others were arrested while demanding the governor appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Monterrosa’s homicide, which Newsom did not do.

The Monterrosa family continues to wait to hear of the outcome from the California Attorney General’s Office. Under the previous Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, the state Department of Justice undertook a review of Vallejo police policies and opened an investigation into the destruction of evidence in the Monterrosa case, but declined to take over the criminal investigation into Monterrosa’s shooting. That was even after Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams recused her office and attempted to hand over the case file to state investigators.

But under new Attorney General Rob Bonta — the Monterrosa sisters’ preferred appointee to replace Becerra after he joined President Joe Biden’s cabinet — the Justice Department announced a criminal review into Monterrosa’s death.

The Justice Department’s press office declined to offer any updates in its investigation. “To protect its integrity, we're unable to comment on an ongoing investigation,” the office said via email Tuesday.

The Monterrosa family also has a pending wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Vallejo and its police department.

Ashley, left, and Michelle Monterrosa
Ashley, left, and Michelle Monterrosa talk about their brother, Sean, on Sept. 23, 2020, on Goat Hill in San Francisco, one of Sean's favorite places in the city. Photo: Brian Krans.

“We're just still putting all our faith and prayers into hoping that we do see convictions being brought forward for Jarrett Tonn,” Michelle Monterrosa said. “We feel that there's a divine alignment to all of this news, and we just hope for the better outcome, the bigger news to come sooner than later.”    

“We do want a trial,” Ashley Monterrosa said. “We do want to see Jarrett Tonn in an orange jumpsuit, arrested, fired and charged, convicted. All of that.”

The Vallejo Police Officers Association continues to fight to prevent the city from naming Tonn as Monterrosa’s killer, despite that previously released documents from the San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory list “Officer Tonn” as the “victim” in the shooting.

VPOA President Michael Nichelini and Lt. Fabio Rodriguez were placed on paid leave shortly after Monterrosa’s death, following accusations of destroying the windshield Tonn shot through. Rodriguez was on leave for 40 hours without pay. Nichelini has since been fired for other alleged misconduct but is suing the city to get his job back.

The Department of Justice confirmed Wednesday it is investigating the alleged destruction of evidence. That investigation is ongoing.

In a statement, the VPOA maintains its stance that Tonn’s actions when he killed Monterrosa were reasonable. Saying the OIR Group’s conclusions were “politically motivated,” the VPOA says it’s “confident that the officer’s actions that evening in response to an imminent threat were objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances and we are looking forward to a neutral, unbiased, and apolitical arbitrator to overturn these findings.”

Files illuminate  drone chain of custody

Among the newly released documents is a report that says Vallejo Police Capt. Jason Potts asked Officer Brad Kim to retrieve a drone that had been flying over Walgreens, which “recorded footages of the incident that led up to the shooting.”

Its pilot, a Medic Ambulance supervisor, later told police he saw, via the drone’s viewscreen, that it looked like Sean Monterrosa attempted to run away as Tonn shot him.

No disclosed footage shows Monterrosa’s actions just before Tonn opened fire.

“I ensured nobody tampered with the Drone and other accessories,” Kim wrote in a supplemental report, adding he transferred custody of the drone to Potts at Vallejo police headquarters just after 1:30 p.m. on June. 2, 2020. (Potts did not respond to a request for comment.)

But nine days later, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, controller, and iPad landed on the desk of a U.S. Secret Service agent in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after it was submitted by Rose and Andre Charles, chief investigator at the Solano County District Attorney’s Office. The technician’s report says the files were “corrupt and unreadable” or “had no content.”

As The Vallejo Sun reported in May, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is a top of the line drone and a local drone expert said it appeared the footage had intentionally been erased, including from the device’s “black box,” that’s independent of the drone’s other storage capabilities.

The OIR Group report stated the lack of footage from the drone “left the statements of the four VPD officers on scene as the primary evidence of what had occurred.”

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