, June 25, 2022

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Vallejo settles suit alleging excessive force in church for $150K

  •   2 min reads
Vallejo settles suit alleging excessive force in church for $150K

VALLEJO – The city of Vallejo has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who alleged that three undercover Vallejo police officers tackled him inside a church in a case of mistaken identity in November 2018.

Jose Villalobos claimed in his lawsuit, filed in December 2019, that he was headed to the men’s room inside St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church on Tennessee Street when several plainclothes officers approached him.

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 did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement, which the Vallejo Sun obtained  through a California Public Records Act request.

“No amount of money will ever undo what happened, the injuries, or the indignity of that experience. At the same time, I am pleased that I was able to secure compensation for Mr. Villalobos,” Villalobos’ lawyer Thomas Seabaugh told the Vallejo Sun in early October when a tentative settlement was reached. “I think the outcome certainly vindicates his decision to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the three officers.”

Blind in one eye, Villalobos cried out during the assault that he had no money, believing he was the victim of a robbery, the lawsuit alleges.

“He also remembers making additional statements to the effect: ‘I just had a surgery on my shoulder. I’m in church. Not doing nothing. I came to pray and relax,’” the lawsuit states.

Vallejo City Attorney Veronica Nebb couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

In court filings, the city admitted that the officers, dressed in plainclothes, approached Villalobos and took him to the ground after he resisted arrest. Vallejo claimed that the officers were conducting a surveillance operation to locate a man who had been soliciting sex from underage girls at the church. The city said that Villalobos entered the church by himself, smelled of alcohol and matched the description of the suspect.

This is the latest settlement involving  Tonn.

In September 2020, the city paid Robert Strong $52,500 to settle an excessive force lawsuit he filed alleging Tonn choked the man and threw him to the ground during an April 2017 traffic stop. Strong was recording the interaction when Tonn pulled the man from his vehicle after refusing the officer’s order to stop recording.

Over the summer, the city paid $38,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit alleging that Tonn, Barreto, and former police Officer Sean Kenney used excessive force when they fired on a vehicle in a May 2017 incident.

A federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by attorneys representing the Monterrosa family is still pending against the city. An outside investigation concluded in a report released last week that Tonn violated the department's policy for use of deadly force when he killed Monterrosa.

Vallejo police have paid nearly $10 million in civil rights lawsuits for incidents since 2015.

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