OAKLAND (CBS SF) — California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Thursday the state Department of Justice will investigate the fatal shooting last June of Sean Monterrosa by a Vallejo police officer.
Bonta said the investigation comes after Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams “unilaterally abdicated her responsibility as the elected district attorney and refused to conduct a review of the Vallejo Police Department’s investigation of the incident,” according to a statement released by Bonta’s office.
Monterrosa was fatally shot on June 2 of last year by a Vallejo police officer from inside a moving patrol vehicle. He was allegedly attempting to loot a Walgreens store during a night of violence sparked by the outrage over the police death of George Floyd.
In July, Abrams announced her office would recuse itself from reviewing both the Monterrosa shooting and the February 2020 shooting of Willie McCoy, referring both cases to former state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Abrams said the recusal was prompted by the outcry over the shootings by elected officials, numerous community members and the media, indicating the state attorney general office was the proper agency to investigate.
Becerra declined at the time to have the state Justice Department take on the case, saying Abrams did not demonstrate that her office was not able to conduct a proper investigation. However, Becerra did say the department would investigate the alleged destruction of evidence in the shooting.
On Thursday, Bonta said Krishna has offered no evidence that her office had a conflict of interest in the case. Since there has not been any indication that the DA’s officer was pursuing the probe into the Vallejo Police Department’s handling of the case, Bonta said his office will now review it.
“Without accountability, there is no justice,” said Bonta in a prepared statement “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. 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. 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.”
Bonta added that the decision announced Thursday is separate from the Justice Department’s ongoing civil review of the Vallejo Police Department’s policies and practices.
Reached for comment, civil rights attorney Melissa Nold said she was thrilled that Bonta has agreed to investigate the shooting but she also expressed concern that the attorney general will stop at the Monterrosa shooting and not investigate the Police Department as a whole.
Nold pointed to the badge bending controversy first reported by the independent newsroom Open Vallejo in July 2020. Vallejo officers bent the tips of their star-shaped badges following their involvement in fatal shootings.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Nold said. “Maybe an investigation about badge bending is in the works but just investigating one shooting isn’t enough.”
Nold, who is pushing for federal oversight of the department, isn’t a fan of Abrams.
“Our DA failed to do her job,” said Nold, who represents the family of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old Suisun City man shot and killed by six Vallejo police officers in February 2019.
Abrams has come under fire for outright refusing to investigate the Monterrosa and McCoy shootings, as she faced questions about her objectivity in investigating fatal police shootings in Solano County. Since being elected district attorney in 2014, her office has cleared every single Vallejo police shooting that has landed on her desk.
In January of this year, a special prosecutor hired by Abrams to investigate the McCoy shooting determined the involved officers were “legally justified.”
A month after Monterrosa’s death, Abrams’ office released a four-minute video in which the DA said she would not be investigating either shootings.
“Given the exceptional circumstances … and the lack of public trust from some community members, it is my professional judgment that our office must recuse itself from any further review of these two cases,” Abrams said in the video.
Her public refusal to investigate came after then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to have the California Department of Justice investigate Monterrosa’s death.
Abrams’ refusal also caused the city’s interim city attorney to issue a rare public statement threatening legal action if the DA didn’t investigate the shootings.
Abrams couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
The Monterrosa family said Thursday that they hope the decision to investigate Sean’s death will inspire similar investigations.
“There are hundreds of families like ours, whose loved ones were unjustly taken and whose pleas for accountability went unanswered. We hope that our struggle and sacrifice will ultimately build a bridge between impacted families and the legislators and elected officials who have the power to bring justice, transparency and accountability,” the family said. “The time has come for California to step up and side with the survivors of police violence. Today, Attorney General 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.”
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