Update: The Vallejo Police Department Misled the Public About the Death of Sean Monterrosa

Photo Credit: Chris Riley — Times-Herald

Update: A new report from ABC7 directly contradicts the timeline of the events surrounding the fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa by Vallejo police.

On June 2, at approximately 12:30 a.m., Officer Jarrett Tonn opened fire on Monterrosa, killing the 22-year-old San Francisco resident. Monterrosa was transported to a hospital, where he was officially declared dead at approximately 1:30 a.m, or one hour after the shooting took place.

However, a Vallejo Police Department press release sent out at approximately 4 a.m. made no mention that the police had shot and killed Monterrosa. In fact, it took the department more than 38 hours to acknowledge that someone had died.

Even more disturbing is that the report shows Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams misled the public about what happened. At a press conference held the next day, Williams asserted that the reason the initial press release made no mention of Monterrosa’s death was because “he wasn’t pronounced dead” — more than 37 hours after he, in fact, was pronounced dead.

It’s hard to decipher what happened here: Did Williams lie? Was he given bad information? Did he misspeak? Whatever the case, it reflects poorly on Williams’ part — and once again calls into question his dedication to implement real reform at the Vallejo Police Department.

Original story:

On June 5, Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams released a statement that attempts to explain what happened on June 2, when Officer Jarrett Tonn shot and killed Sean Monterrosa.

Williams claims: “As officers arrived, Mr. Monterrosa was attempting to flee with others in a vehicle. Rather than continuing his escape, Mr. Monterrosa chose to engage the responding officers. Mr. Monterrosa abruptly pivoted back around toward the officers, crouched into a tactical shooting position, and grabbed an object in his waistband that appeared to be the butt of a handgun. At no time did Mr. Monterrosa make any movements consistent with surrendering. Fearing that Mr. Monterrosa was about to open fire on the officers in the vehicle, the officer was forced to fire multiple rounds through his windshield. The officer used deadly force as a last resort because he had no other reasonable option to prevent getting shot.”

First, let’s pay attention to the language used here: “chose to engage the responding officer”; “crouched into a tactical shooting position”; “[a]t no time did Mr. Monterrosa make any movements consistent with surrendering.”

Do you see the assumptions here? Monterrosa chose to engage; he crouched into a tactical shooting position; he didn’t make movements consistent with surrendering. Vallejo police officers must have thoroughly interrogated Monterrosa afterwards in order to assess his mental state and motivations with such certainty, right?

Oh, wait.

Anyway, turns out the object “that appeared to be … a handgun” was a hammer. Oops! Our bad! But hey, Tonn — who has a history of use of excessive force, including three prior shootings as well as another incident that led to a lawsuit — only “used deadly force as a last resort,” firing through his windshield because he had “no other reasonable option to prevent getting shot.” You know, besides shifting his patrol car into reverse and backing away from the perceived threat. Or doing nothing.

So, let’s get this all straight. Monterrosa was fleeing, then “chose to engage” the officers by assuming a “tactical shooting position” while reaching for his … hammer?

The statement does not clarify this baffling line of reasoning, nor does it clarify why it took the Vallejo Police Department more than 24 hours to confirm that an officer had killed someone.

I understand the instinct to protect one’s own (and his is far from the most egregious example), but Williams’ nonsensical explanation of his officer’s actions calls into question his dedication to hold himself and his department accountable — indeed, his dedication to protect and serve the community that employs him.

In a press release by the city of Vallejo announcing an agreement between the city and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to “modernize and reform” the Vallejo Police Department’s practices and policies, Williams states that, among many other changes he has made since accepting the job of police chief in 2019, he has implemented “an improved de-escalation policy.” If the death of Monterrosa is any indication, that policy is not working.