VALLEJO (CBS SF) — Oakland attorney John Burris filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Vallejo and Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn on Thursday for the fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Sean Monterrosa during a Black Lives Matter protest in early June.
Burris’ law firm, representing the Monterrosa family, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.
Burris has previously litigated other high-profile civil rights cases such as those of Rodney King and Oscar Grant, as well as rapper Willie McCoy, who was shot by six Vallejo police officers in 2019.
Last month, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams announced that her office would recuse itself from reviewing the deadly Vallejo police shootings.
On Wednesday, Vallejo officials released a flood of new documentation connected to the fatal officer-involved shooting of McCoy, including evidence current Chief Shawny Williams recommended one officer’s termination.
The lawsuit filed Thursday accuses the Vallejo Police Department of tampering with evidence and acting negligently by not reprimanding or re-training Tonn despite a “shocking history of shooting his gun at civilians.”
Tonn shot three other people over a five-year span before fatally shooting Monterrosa, 22, in the early morning hours of June 2.
“The number of shootings is totally outrageous,” Burris said during a news conference Thursday. “It is well beyond the pale.”
Attorney Ben Nisenbaum noted that, including the shooting of Monterrosa, Tonn accounted for more than a tenth of the department’s 32 shootings over the past decade.
A spokesperson for the city of Vallejo did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit, but the Vallejo Police Department said in a statement that it respected the Monterrosa family’s right to take legal
“We know this is a painful step for the Monterrosa family,” the department said. “It is our sincere hope that this process will guide the family and our community toward healing.”
Tonn and a group of other Vallejo police officers responded to a report of vandalism at a Walgreens on June 2 when they saw Monterrosa retreating from the drug store.
The lawsuit claims Tonn fired an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle five times at Monterrosa through the windshield of an unmarked pickup truck. Vallejo police have claimed that Tonn fired at Monterrosa because he mistook a hammer in Monterrosa’s sweatshirt pocket for the butt of a gun.
“This was overly armed by the officer and overly panicked under the circumstances. That type of conduct really, in our view, justifies criminal prosecution,” said Burris.
Last month, Police in Vallejo released body camera footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting as well as security camera video from the Walgreens.
Tonn was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, which garnered national attention. Vallejo city officials and House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi have called for an FBI investigation into the shooting.
“It’s unfortunate that it took my brother’s life to bring more light, national attention to how Vallejo has been doing this for years,” Sean’s older sister Michelle Monterrosa said.
The lawsuit also alleges that the department destroyed the truck’s windshield that Tonn shot through. The truck, Burris said, is now back in service.
“That’s a clear destruction of evidence,” Burris said. “Any reasonable police officer — particularly a lieutenant, particularly an investigative person — would know that there’s real value associated with that window.”
Michelle and Sean’s younger sister, Ashley Monterrosa, said justice would not truly be served until Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams fired Tonn and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed criminal charges against Tonn for the shooting.
Becerra has already announced an investigation into the alleged destruction of evidence but has declined to involve the state Department of Justice in the shooting investigation.
“It turns out, to them, that destruction of evidence is more important than murdering my brother,” Ashley Monterrosa said.
The sisters and Burris also suggested the shooting highlights a culture of misconduct within the Vallejo Police Department.
Michelle Monterrosa cited allegations that more than a dozen officers within the department bent the tips of their star-shaped badges to signify each time they killed a civilian in the line of duty.
“At the end of the day, Jarrett Tonn was just out on that night — I’m sure other officers were — looking for a way to bend their badge,” she
said. “They were looking for a way to assassinate an unarmed Black man or Latino man. They just flat out assassinated my brother.”
When asked if Tonn was still working on the force, Vallejo Police officials were unable to comment on his status due to his involvement in the ongoing investigation into the Monterrosa shooting.
Ultimately, Burris said, city officials have a choice of whether they want the shooting to spur meaningful change within the Police Department or let the opportunity pass.
“This is not a moment,” he said. “It could be a movement. This case could be at the center part of that.”
Joe Vazquez contributed to this story.
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