Northern California police fatally shot an unarmed 22-year-old who was on his knees with his hands raised in front of a Walgreens store when he responded to a call for alleged looting.
An official in Vallejo City was in his car when he shot Sean Monterrosa under local and national protests against police brutality on Monday evening. Police said an official mistakenly believed Monterrosa had a gun, but later found that he had a hammer in his pocket.
The assassination of Monterrosa, who lived in San Francisco, sparked outrage in the Bay Area, particularly in the city of Vallejo, a city with a long history of police violence and high profile killings and excessive complaints about violence.
“When he was confronted by the police, he fell on his knees and surrendered, and they fired on him,” said Melissa Nold, a civil rights lawyer from Vallejo who represents Monterrosa’s family. “He didn’t do anything to justify it. They shot him out of their car. What opportunity did they give him to survive this situation? … It’s incredibly bad.”
The exact circumstances that led to the murder are unclear and the police have not yet released any footage. In a press conference on Wednesday two days after the murder, chief of police Shawny Williams said officials responded shortly after midnight to a call for possible looting in the pharmacy when an officer pulled up in a cruiser and saw a dozen people in the parking lot get a car.
A second officer in an unmarked car pulled up and found Monterrosa, who was still there, who knelt down and started raising his hands. At that time, the police chief said, the officer had “sensed a threat” and fired five shots through his window at Monterosso.
The chief refused to identify the officer who killed Monterrosa and only said that the officer was an 18-year-old veteran of the group. The boss also evaded questions about whether he saw the shootout as excessive violence and ignored questions from disgruntled community members who had appeared at a press conference. When asked about the benefits of shooting through a window, the chief said that some officers were trained to shoot through their windshields and said that this was allowed under the guidelines.
Monterrosa died in the hospital, said the boss.
The last person killed by the Vallejo police was Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old who had slept in his car in February 2019 when six officers fired 55 bullets in 3.5 seconds. One of the six officers who had killed McCoy, an aspiring rapper in the Bay Area, had previously killed an unarmed man who fled on his bike. Another Vallejo officer killed three men within five months and was then promoted.
Vallejo, a city 30 miles northeast of San Francisco with 121,000 residents, has seen a significantly higher rate of police killing over the years than the national average and other cities in the Bay Area.
Despite the promised reforms in the wake of extensive controls, the killing of Monterrosa and the actions of the police officers subsequently indicate that nothing has changed, said Nold, who has long campaigned for political change.
The day after the shootout, the police and other Vallejo leaders held a press conference about the ongoing protests and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but refused to provide details about Monterrosa’s murder, only saying that the shootout was that an officer was involved in and refuses to state whether it was fatal.
“It’s just unfathomable,” said Nold, adding that the news has been devastating to many families of people killed by the Vallejo police who are trying to be optimistic about changes in the city since the police have been there hadn’t killed anyone in over a year.
Although the chief probably knew the circumstances of the murder when he held his first press conference, he refused to discuss it while the citizens continued to march on Floyd, Nold noted. “We are protesting for a man who lived thousands of miles away. And on the day we march, our own police shoot an unarmed man on his knees.”
While Nold hasn’t seen any body camera footage that the police have to release, and hasn’t seen Monterrosa’s body, she noted that “even her own version of the story is terrible.” The department, she said, has had a success story of initially misrepresenting the circumstances of murders, which the public later learns when a video is released. Even if the police believed Monterrosa was involved in the looting, the officers had no evidence of it when they arrived and shot him immediately, she added.
Nold said she was keen to find out the officer’s identity because the force was relatively small and in the past few years she had known more than a dozen officers who had killed more than one citizen.
Monterrosa grew up in San Francisco, where he attended art school and previously worked at the local Boys and Girls Club, a non-profit organization.
“He was a true son of San Francisco and Bernal Heights,” said Jake Grumbach, a family friend of the posted a video from Monterrosa during a youth program in the city where relatives and residents gathered for a vigil on Thursday. “He was loved and respected by so many … There is just so much support and solidarity in the community.”
Police officers from Vallejo did not answer any questions.
Another civil rights lawyer, Adante Pointer, who has long represented the families of Vallejo, said it was particularly alarming that officials were killing a resident at that moment: “The eyes of the world are on the police, yet your officials feel still comfortable enough to shoot someone What are the most questionable circumstances? If they could do this in the light of George Floyd’s protests and global control, you could only imagine what they are doing in the dark of the night when no one is looking. ”