06.03.2021

Vallejo: DOJ Probe of Officer-Involved Killing Points to Pattern of Police Abuse

Vallejo: DOJ Probe of Officer-Involved Killing Points to Pattern of Police Abuse Photo Courtesy California Black Media via Shutterstock

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Separate from the state conducting an ongoing civil review of the Vallejo Police Department’s (VPD) policies and practices, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced in early May that his office will conduct another investigation into an officer-involved shooting death in the East Bay town.

Bonta said the California Department of Justice (DOJ) will investigate to determine whether the June 2020 lethal shooting of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa warrants criminal charges. The victim was a carpenter of Argentinian descent who had also worked at a local Boys & Girls club.

“Without accountability, there is no justice,” Bonta said. “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. It’s time for that to change; it’s time for action.”

Bonta’s announcement comes after the Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams announced that she would not conduct a review of the Vallejo Police Department’s investigation of the incident.

On March 10, 2021, the investigation of the officer-involved shooting of Monterrosa was completed by local authorities and presented to the Solano County District Attorney’s Office for review.

Subsequently, the D.A., “without invitation or notice,” Bonta’s office stated, attempted to deliver the investigative file to the DOJ.

Bonta blasted Abrams, saying by failing to investigate Monterrosa’s death, she “abdicated her responsibility” as an elected district attorney. Bonta’s office said no known circumstances prevented Abrams from discharging her duties.

“Seeing the failure of the District Attorney to fulfill this important responsibility, my office will review the case to ensure a fair, thorough, and transparent process is completed,” Bonta stated. “This is the right thing to do, and I will go where the facts lead. Rebuilding trust in our institutions starts with the actions of each and every one of us. If there has been wrongdoing, we will bring it to light.”

Monterrosa was shot and killed outside of a Walgreens store by a Vallejo police officer, who was responding to a series of lootings in the city after George Floyd’s death a week before.

The officer fired his weapon at Monterrosa through a patrol car’s windshield. The officer said he thought a hammer in Monterrosa’s pocket was a gun.

“It feels incredibly meaningful to finally receive the respect our family and Sean deserved these past 12 months,” Monterrosa’s family said in a statement after Bonta’s announcement. “We have made deep sacrifices to get to this point.”

Monterrosa’s family also brought up the fact that other families are struggling with similar situations that involve the police in California and “whose pleas for accountability went unanswered,” the family stated.

“Bonta gave us hope that his office is willing to begin that long walk to justice, for Sean Monterrosa and all the victims of police violence,” the family said.

In a town of approximately 125,000 residents, the city of Vallejo infamously earned the distinction of having a rate of fatal police-involved shootings 38 times greater than the national average in 2012.

VPD officers committed six fatal shootings in 2012, including African American Anton Barrett, 42, who exited his vehicle and ran from the cops after they observed him speeding. Unarmed, Barrett was shot, then shocked with a taser on a dead-end street between two apartment buildings.

Vallejo’s high volume of cases involving officers’ use of force, misconduct, and physical abuse issues, is why the police department is under the extreme scrutiny of the AG’s office, the city’s residents, and social justice groups across the state.

Beloved by his local community, Willie “Willie Bo” McCoy, a 20-year-old Black Bay Area rapper whose career was on the upswing, died in a hail of bullets -- all of them fired from the guns of Vallejo police officers -- on Feb. 9, 2019.

Six police officers fired 55 bullets in 3.5 seconds at McCoy who had been sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell drive-thru, according to the city of Vallejo’s hired consultant, which deemed the shooting “reasonable.”

McCoy’s body was thoroughly riddled with bullets in his face, chest, throat, arms, and other parts of his anatomy, which made him unrecognizable according to a report the city of Vallejo paid $8,000 for at roughly $150 per hour.

“I find the use of deadly force in this case to be reasonable and in line with contemporary training and police practices associated with use of deadly force,” said retired officer David M. Blake, owner of Blake Consulting and Training, a security consulting firm located in Brentwood.

McCoy’s family says that the hip hop artist’s killing amounts to “execution by a firing squad.”

“This is an unconstitutional level of force,” said Melissa Nold, the McCoy family’s attorney. Nold said the shooting was done in a way where “you want to ensure that this human being does not survive,” she stated.

Historically, officer-involved shootings in California have been primarily handled by the state’s 58 district attorneys who are largely resourced by and accountable to the jurisdictions where the incidents occurred, as should have been the case with the investigation into the shooting of Monterrosa in Solano County.

However, as a result of Assembly Bill (AB)1506, which goes into effect July 1, the California DOJ will soon have an important new tool to directly help build and maintain trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

AB 1506, authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) will allow the DOJ, if requested by a local law enforcement agency, to take over investigations of officer-involved shootings of unarmed civilians across California.

McCarty said the death of George Floyd made his bill urgent and essential.

Based on historical averages, the DOJ estimates that, once the law is in effect, it expects to handle about 40 police-related murder investigations across the state each year.

“The Office of the Attorney General is currently taking steps to help ensure the Department is able to successfully launch this new effort to help give Californians confidence that there is a fair and impartial process in place to capably and timely investigate these serious, deadly incidents,” the state’s A.G. office said.