The case of the police shooting of 22-year-old San Francisco man Sean Monterrosa is certain to reverberate around the Bay Area in the coming days and months, as demonstrations continue and tensions remain high over police killings nationwide.
It was the second shooting of an alleged looter two days, the first having been non-fatal, outside a CVS in Hayward on Sunday night. Vallejo police officers were called to the scene of a Walgreens on Broadway and Redwood Street after reports of looting. It was the second time Monday night that officers had come to this store, after a second wave of looters numbering around 10 or 12 were reportedly trying to break into the building just after midnight.
Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams said in a news conference Wednesday, more than 36 hours after the shooting occurred, that a responding officer saw Monterrosa attempt to run to a getaway vehicle, but then stop and kneel, putting his hands up. Seeing what he believed to be a handgun in Monterrosa's waist, the officer fired five times through his own vehicles windshield, hitting Monterrosa once.
"This individual appeared to be running toward the black sedan but suddenly stopped, taking a kneeling position and placing his hands above his waist revealing what appeared to be the butt of handgun," Williams said. "Investigations later revealed that the weapon was a long 15-inch hammer tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt."
As ABC 7 reports, civil rights attorney John Burris is already representing Monterrosa's family, and there are many questions about whether the officer could have felt an imminent threat to his life, and whether the department's policy on de-escalation was followed.
"[The officer] did not see Mr. Monterrosa put his hands on [the hammer] in a threatening way," Burris says, speaking to ABC 7. "So the question here is what threat if any did he actually present."
Burris added, per the Chronicle, "Notwithstanding what he’s accused of doing, you don’t kill people because they’re looters."
22 seconds before the officer shot Monterrosa, as the Chronicle reports, an officer can be heard on a scanner saying, "Wearing all black, looks like they’re armed—possibly armed."
Police body camera footage has not yet been released, and will likely provide greater context. But the shooting nonetheless is a tragedy and another stain on the already much stained record of the Vallejo PD.
Monterrosa was Latinx, and Vallejo police have yet another shooting of a person of color to answer for. His family has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover funeral and legal expenses. "He was a wonderful son, brother, friend who touched the lives of those around him," they write on the GoFundMe page. "He was loyal, hard working, and had a heart of gold."
Writing today in the Chronicle, Otis R. Taylor Jr. reports how the Vallejo PD has had dozens of officer-involved shootings over the last decade, with 40 officers on the force having been involved with at least one (14 officers have been involved in multiple shootings). Protesters in Vallejo in recent days have been chanting the names of Willie McCoy, Ronell Foster, Eric Reason, and Angel Ramos, all of whom were fatally shot by Vallejo police officers in recent years.
"This stuff was happening in our own community and nobody was doing anything about it,” says Vallejo resident Askari Sowonde, speaking to the Chronicle. “We have been talking about police accountability. We have been talking about all of this stuff for years. Now they hear us?”
McCoy was a local rapper who was shot by police in a bizarre February 2019 incident in a Taco Bell drive-thru in Vallejo. A restaurant worker called police to report a man slumped over the wheel of a silver Mercedes, asleep, with the car in drive. Arriving officers found McCoy unresponsive with a handgun in his lap. He awoke, sat up, scratched a shoulder, and before officers could finish yelling at him to show his hands, a barrage of bullets began. A report last June revealed that officers had shot at McCoy 55 times in what Burris described as a "bungled" police response.
The response to the looting incident on Monday night seems similarly bungled, and adds fuel to the rage fire that continues burning across local communities about the police and the use of deadly force in incidents where it is not necessary.
Chief Williams refused to offer an opinion in the Wednesday press conference as to whether excessive force had been used in the shooting saying only, "the district attorney is going to look at this and our internal affairs will look at it."
Just after the officer shot Monterrosa, the black sedan that he had been initially running toward quickly fled the scene, ramming a police vehicle in the process and causing an airbag to deploy.
As we learned on Tuesday, officers chased the vehicle, which reportedly reached speeds of 100 miles per hour, across the Carquinez Bridge and south on I-80 to Rodeo, where the suspect attempted to abandon the car. The suspect, who has not yet been publicly named, was then apprehended on foot.
Vallejo then saw a chaotic Tuesday night of protest, which included a reported 40 vehicles surrounding police headquarters and throwing rocks and bottles. National Guard troops were called in to patrol the city's streets Tuesday and Wednesday.
Photo via GoFundMe