California attorney general will examine killing by police
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s new attorney general said Thursday his office will review the fatal shooting of a San Francisco Bay Area man, who police say they initially thought was carrying a handgun in his waistband but actually had a hammer.
Attorney General Rob Bonta repeatedly criticized Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams for not conducting her own review of last year’s death of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa by Vallejo police, saying she was fully capable but chose not to do so. Bonta’s predecessor, Xavier Becerra, had declined to take up the investigation for the same reason.
“I made it clear that she should conduct the investigation,” Bonta said. “In the absence of her doing so, we will do so because fairness requires a complete process — not a process that ends with an investigation and a file that’s gathering dust on someone’s desk somewhere, but a review of that investigation, and a decision.”
Abrams had asked the attorney general’s office to take over the investigation, saying in June that “an independent review is needed at this time to restore public trust and provide credibility, transparency and oversight.”
In a statement Thursday, Abrams accused the attorney general of “playing politics with one of the most critical and divisive issues in our communities today — officer involved fatalities.”
Bonta’s office said local officials’ investigation into Monterrosa’s death was completed March 10 and given to Abrams’ office for review. But Abrams, it said, attempted to turn the file over to the attorney general’s office “without invitation or notice.”
Abrams, however, said she spoke with Bonta Thursday morning, and “Mr. Bonta stated that his department would not be reviewing the case due to funding not being available until July 1st. Within an hour of my telephone conference this morning with Mr. Bonta, he notified me that his department would be reviewing the case, completely reversing himself.”
In response, Bonta’s office said that during their call, the attorney general had “made clear that the DA should be reviewing the investigation” but Abrams refused to conduct the review.
A law that goes into effect in July will require the attorney general to investigate officer-involved shootings of unarmed civilians. But Bonta said it doesn’t apply in this case.
Monterrosa, of San Francisco, was killed June 2 by an officer who fired five times through a police car windshield, hitting Monterrosa once. He was suspected of stealing from a pharmacy amid national protests over killings by police.
Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams initially said Monterrosa dropped to his knees and put his hands above his waist, revealing what the officer took to be the butt of a handgun. He later said a detective described seeing Monterrosa “turning towards the officers in a crouching-down, half-kneeling position, as if in preparation to shoot.” But it turned out to be a 15-inch hammer in the pocket of his sweatshirt.
He was killed when Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn fired five times through the windshield from inside an unmarked police vehicle.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing the Monterrosa family in a wrongful death lawsuit, said he is thankful Bonta will review the case.
“The Vallejo police command staff knew or should have known that this was Tonn’s fourth shooting in five years and by failing to discipline officers for misconduct, Vallejo’s police command staff essentially ratified the bad conduct,” Burris said in a statement.
The windshield, considered a key piece of evidence, was destroyed, leading city officials to seek a criminal investigation into how that happened.
The Vallejo police department has come under repeated criticism in other cases as well.
Separately, in July, Williams said he was starting an independent investigation after two people in the department said officers had their badges bent to mark on-duty killings.
The department has had several other controversial slayings by police, including that of Willie McCoy, 20, of Suisun City, in February 2019. McCoy was killed after he fell asleep with a gun in his lap in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru. Six Vallejo officers fired 55 shots.
Vallejo agreed in November to pay $750,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit by Carl Edwards, a handyman who was left bloodied after he was beaten and choked by Vallejo police in 2017.
Bonta said there is no timeframe for completing what he said would be an impartial and thorough investigation of Monterrosa’s death.
“Wherever the facts and the law lead, that’s where we’ll go,” he said. ”If there is wrongdoing, we’ll bring it to light. If the facts do not lead to a charging decision, we will explain it.”
State Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat from nearby Napa, praised Bonta’s decision, saying he had wanted an independent investigation all along. “It’s crucial that we have a thorough and impartial review of the facts and get accountability for any wrongdoing,” Dodd said in a statement.