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California attorney general to review fatal shooting by Vallejo police

The LA Times logo The LA Times 5/14/2021 Richard Winton
Rob Bonta standing in a room: Former California Assemblyman Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference in March shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his nomination for state attorney general. As attorney general, Bonta announced that his office will review a fatal shooting by a Vallejo police officer. (Associated Press) © (Associated Press) Former California Assemblyman Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference in March shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his nomination for state attorney general. As attorney general, Bonta announced that his office will review a fatal shooting by a Vallejo police officer. (Associated Press)

California Atty. General Rob Bonta announced Thursday that his office will review a fatal shooting by a Vallejo police officer that occurred on a night of unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Bonta, who recently took over as attorney general after his predecessor Xavier Becerra joined the Biden administration, made the unusual decision to intervene in the case of the Vallejo killing after a local prosecutor refused to do so. Bonta criticized Solano County Dist. Atty. Krishna Abrams, who he said had "unilaterally abdicated her responsibility" to look into the shooting for possible criminal charges.

Abrams' "failure to act only serves to create more obfuscation and distrust in our justice system," Bonta said.

Abrams did not respond to Bonta's comments on Thursday.

The attorney general's intervention comes amid allegations by a lawyer representing the family of the man who was killed that the killing was the fourth shooting by the officer, Jarrett Tonn, in the past five years.

Tonn killed Sean Monterossa on June 2 last year, when officers responded to reports that a group of people had broken into a Walgreens during protests against Floyd's death. When Tonn and another officer arrived in an unmarked police car, they said they saw Monterrosa, dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, first run toward the sedan and then drop to a knee.

A video from a camera Tonn wore shows the officer opening fire from inside the vehicle before it comes to a stop. He fired five times through the windshield, hitting the 22-year-old San Francisco man.

On the video, Tonn can be heard shouting, “He pointed a gun at us!”

“Do not move!” another officer yelled at Monterrosa as he laid motionless on the ground.

"Do you see a gun on him?" Tonn said. The colleague replies that he did not. Officers then roll Monterrosa over, revealing the hammer sticking out of his pocket. Tonn curses as he runs to get a medical kit.

The officers performed CPR on Monterrosa.

According to Vallejo police, Tonn later told investigators he fired because he saw Monterrosa's hands moving toward his waist near what he believed was the butt of a handgun. Monterossa was not armed with a gun, but did have a 15-inch hammer, police said.

Monterossa "was in the process of putting up his hands" when he was shot and “didn’t do anything with the hammer,” said John Burris, an attorney representing Monterossa's family. "He didn’t reach for it. He didn’t pull it out. ... Our view is they never gave [him] a chance. He was trying to surrender.”

“Without accountability, there is no justice,” Bonta said in a statement announcing his decision to review the shooting. “It’s past time Sean Monterrosa’s family, the community, and the people of Vallejo get some answers. They deserve to know where the case stands. Instead, they’ve been met with silence."

Police in Vallejo, a small Bay Area city south of Napa, have faced intense scrutiny over shootings and questionable tactics. In June last year, Becerra launched a sweeping review of the Police Department's practices to address use-of-force abuses, officers' biases and poor transparency by agency officials.

And in October, the police chief fired an officer who had been involved in two fatal shootings of Black men a year apart.

Footage of one of the shootings from a camera worn by an officer ignited a public outcry after six officers were seen firing 55 rounds in 3.5 seconds at Willie McCoy. McCoy had fallen asleep in his car in a Taco Bell drive-through with a gun on his lap.

In all, state Department of Justice officials say, Vallejo police killed 19 people between 2010 and 2020 — a large number given the relatively small size of the department.

Within days of the shooting of Monterrosa, his family members and their attorney called for Becerra to conduct an independent probe. At the time, Abrams said she supported the move and, in a July 2020 video, said it was better for the attorney general's office to handle the case because Becerra had already launched the broader review of the Vallejo Police Department.

Typically, district attorneys in each of California's 58 counties review investigations into police shootings to decide whether criminal charges against officers are warranted. .

But Bonta said Abrams has attempted to deliver the investigative file into the shooting to the California Department of Justice even though , "no known circumstances prevented her from discharging her duties."

As a result of the district attorney's inaction, Bonta said, his office will review the probe and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

Burris, the attorney representing Monterossa's family, said he was "thankful Attorney General Rob Bonta is taking over the review."

Burris said the killing was Tonn’s fourth shooting in five years.

"By failing to discipline officers for misconduct, Vallejo’s police command staff essentially ratified the bad conduct,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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