On Sept. 30, California joined 46 other states with the legal means to decertify bad cops, those who engage in serious misconduct. Thanks to the hard work of state Sen. Steven Bradford, Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill 2, the Kenneth Ross, Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021.
While important for California, this legislation is particularly meaningful for Vallejo, where 19 — mostly young Black and Brown men — have been killed by Vallejo police since 2010. This is one of the highest rates in the country. Fourteen officers — aptly named “the fatal 14” — have been involved in multiple killings with no consequences. They leave behind the devastating loss of their victims’ family members and civil rights settlements for their misconduct paid out by the city, totaling some of the highest in the nation.
Elected Vallejo Assembly District 14 delegates Brenda Crawford, Susan George, Ruscal Cayangyang, Susannah Delano and Thomas Bilbo successfully joined forces with all Region 2 delegates last March to ensure that SB 2 was formally endorsed by the California Democratic Party. Assembly Member Timothy Grayson and Sen. Bill Dodd both signed off on the bill.
This legislation is an important step in holding Vallejo police accountable, but ongoing community action and proper enforcement will be critical to any lasting change.
VALLEJO – On June 2, 2020, Vallejo police Detective Jarrett Tonn fired his rifle five times from the back seat of an unmarked police truck as it pulled up to a Walgreens pharmacy, hitting Sean Monterrosa once in the back of the head, according to his official autopsy report.
Officers were responding to reports of widespread looting that had swept the region amid protests over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis a week earlier.
Seconds before Tonn fired, Capt. Lee Horton announced over the radio that “it looks like they’re armed, possibly armed.” Monterrosa had a roofing hammer in the front pocket of his black hoodie. Minutes before, according to video released by Vallejo police, the 22-year-old had been using that hammer to try to pry open a locker in the pharmacy, as others had tried to do earlier in the night.
The video of Monterrosa in Walgreens is the only visual evidence the Vallejo Police Department has made public that shows Monterrosa in the final moments of his life. Police body cameras were obscured by vehicle seats and dashboards, as they were just arriving on the scene as Tonn started firing.
Coincidentally, a Medic Ambulance supervisor was reportedly flying a high-end drone in the area that an expert describes as “idiot proof.” But attorneys once representing the Monterrosa family in a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit alleged early on that the drone had been “destroyed.”
In the following days, two lieutenants were placed on leave for allegedly destroying the windshield of the truck that Tonn fired through. The California Department of Justice investigated the allegations and said that it turned its file over in late January to the Solano County District Attorney’s office, which has recused itself from the Monterrosa case.
Newly available files related to Monterrosa’s killing obtained by JohnGlidden.com provide more insight into the investigation of it but raise new questions about what happened to any footage captured by the drone.
A forensic specialist with the U.S. Secret Service was unable to pull any data from the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone that was at the scene, including its internal and independent “black box” memory storage that automatically records detailed information about the device’s flight path, including stills from any video that was recorded.
“If that is not there, you have serious problems,” said Werner von Stein, owner of the SF Drone School Research Center on Treasure Island and regular user of the Mavic 2. “There’s something fishy going on here.”
‘The most extraordinary incidence of lawless criminal behavior’
Monterrosa was declared dead at 1:31 a.m. on June 2, 2020, about an hour after a call went out to emergency responders about an “officer-involved shooting” at the Walgreens on Redwood Street. One of Tonn’s bullets struck Monterrosa in the base of his skull, leaving him with just a few minutes to live, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s forensic pathologist’s report.
Moneterrosa’s body was removed from the scene and transported by Medic Ambulance to Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo.
Medic Ambulance would send Monterrosa — who was dead before they transported him — a bill for $3,244.85.
Since dusk, Vallejo had been besieged with cars full of people breaking into various businesses around the city.
Napa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joshua Coleman — a former Vallejo police officer involved in multiple shootings himself — responded to Vallejo to see “the most extraordinary incidence of lawless criminal behavior that I have ever witnessed in my entire 14 year career.”
Coleman wrote that he was concerned after hearing several gun stores had been attacked in the previous few days. “I could hear passerby residents yelling violent threats at the officers on every scene,” he wrote. “It was a very dangerous and volatile situation; I was keenly aware of the likelihood that officers could encounter armed burglars.”
The city of Vallejo’s first response to the events reflected how the business community was impacted. At a press conference the day after Monterrosa was killed, City Manager Greg Nyhoff described the groups entering the city as “packs.” The city would request help from the National Guard after someone lit a fire at City Hall.
City officials refused to discuss the shooting of Monterrosa that day. In fact, Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams waited 38.5 hours to report the shooting had been fatal, despite pledging transparency after being sworn in as the city’s first Black police chief months before.
Williams initially described Monterrosa’s stature as being on his knees with his hands above his waist. He also listed criminal charges associated with Monterrosa’s name, though Monterrosa had not been convicted of any of them. Vallejo police started gathering that information following his death.
Hours after his death, Monterrosa’s sisters contacted the Solano County coroner’s office to learn their brother was dead. Meanwhile, Vallejo Police Assistant Allen Pigg sent a handwritten fax to San Francisco police, asking for “all police reports in your possession regarding Sean Monterrosa.”
While Vallejo police portrayed Monterrosa as a criminal, the Vallejo Police Officers Association quickly filed legal actions against the city from releasing Tonn’s name, citing fears for his and his family’s safety. Despite the fact that his name was quickly made public in local news reports and eventually The New Yorker, nearly a year later, the department has yet to officially release it. Department-released body camera footage of the shooting blurred his face and any mention of his name.
But reports from the San Mateo County Forensics Laboratory obtained by JohnGlidden.com lists “Officer Tonn” as the victim in the investigation surrounding Monterrosa’s death. Tonn was involved in three shootings since 2014, though Monterrosa was the first that was fatal.
Vallejo police regularly list themselves as the victims in use-of-force reports.
‘The video files of interest had no content’
Solano County District Attorney’s Investigator Charles Renfro was one of several investigators on the scene after Monterrosa was shot. Renfro and Vallejo Detective Terry Schillinger contacted William “Billy’” White, an operations manager for Medic Ambulance who was flying a drone over the Walgreens “at or around” the time of the burglaries, according to Renfro’s report.
Noting that Schillinger left a voicemail message for White to call him back, Renfro also interviewed a resident in the area who said she “observed a drone flying around the Walgreens just before the [officer-involved shooting],” his report states.
For other details, Renfro pointed other investigators to reports from Schillinger, but those reports have not yet been made public.
According to White’s claim for reimbursement with the city, the drone was confiscated at Medic Ambulance’s office in Vallejo, which is on the same block as the Walgreens. White wrote he had “reported [the] event to Capt. [Jason] Potts” and he had been “working” with Detective Jason Scott. The city reimbursed White $2,499.76 for his equipment on July 28.
Reached by phone Tuesday, White said it would be “completely inappropriate” to comment about what happened with his drone.
Nine days after Tonn killed Monterossa — Steven Baskerville, a Secret Service agent working at the National Computer Forensics Institute Lab at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma received a DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, controller, and seventh-generation iPad from Detective Kevin Rose of the Vallejo Police Department and Andre Charles, chief investigator at the Solano County District Attorney’s Office.
Baskerville wrote in his final report to Vallejo police that he hooked the devices up to various data-retrieving programs, like Cellebrite, DataPilot, Forensic Toolkit, and HxD, but his searches weren’t fruitful.
“The recovered video files from the external flash media were corrupt and unreadable. Additionally, the video files of interest had no content,” Baskerville wrote in his report.
Baskerville found an MP4 file created on June 2 on the SD card, but the file’s internal data had been “overwritten” with zeros. All files from that day, he found, “contained no data.” Baskerville wrote that after “further research” he found that DJI drones can “overwrite” when they’re “improperly shutdown.”
That, to von Stein, seems odd. “It’s electronic. It can happen, but it’s not the norm. It’s rare,” he said. “That sounds like it was wiped.”
Brittany K. Jackson, Vallejo police’s public information officer, said the drone was handled within department policy and chain of custody was followed.
“The VPD made several attempts to try and recover the information [from the drone],” Jackson said over email. “We were not able to recover the information, so we sent it to the agency experts at the Secret Service for possible data recovery by personnel trained to recover lost or corrupted data.”
As noted in the Secret Service report, “all files on the drone and the iPad were unreadable,” Jackson said, despite Vallejo police expecting “the drone to work and for its memory to contain supporting evidence.”
Von Stein’s office is tucked in a corner of a former military building on Treasure Island. His specialty is aerial photography for map-making, which began with physical film and radio-controlled airplanes made of paper and balsa wood. He now handles much more sophisticated, yet user-friendly, drones for entities like the city of San Francisco.
DJI is the largest drone maker and considers the Mavic 2 to be its flagship consumer drone. It’s consistently one of the top-rated drones on the market. “It’s idiot-proof,” von Stein said.
The Mavic wouldn’t likely get that kind of praise if it had the major design flaw of erasing or overwriting a video file if the device was shut down improperly. Its hardware and software are designed to keep the drones from running into something and crashing, including automatically returning when battery levels become critically low.
While Baskerville’s report doesn’t say how the Mavic was improperly shutdown, von Stein theorized it could have been due to user error by pulling out the SD card or battery before stopping a recording. That could corrupt all the files on a card, but that’s where DJI’s software comes in.
Even if a file on the removable SD card is corrupted, von Stein said a Mavic’s “black box” — which begins recording every time a Mavic drone takes off — shouldn’t be affected.
“The black box is independent of the SD card,” he said. “If that is not there, you have a serious problem.”
Besides the flight pattern, the drone’s black box records numerous data points, including when and where video recording started and stopped, as well as the direction of the camera and pictures of what’s on screen. That means the drone should have records of whether it captured video of Tonn shooting Monterossa, if it was recording and in-frame at the time.
To affect any of the Mavic 2’s black box recordings, a device must be physically connected via micro USB cable to the physical device.
But flight records, as well as any recorded video, are also normally saved in the DJI Go app, which should have been on the iPad submitted to the Secret Service, von Stein said.
“This is all independent. It technically should be there,” he said, adding he’s never personally experienced data disappearing like that in a DJI drone.
Even if the video wasn’t saved, the drone operator would have seen what the drone’s camera was capturing in real time. Von Stein says no drone pilots fly without paying attention to what’s on screen.
All told, Baskerville’s report says he was unable to pull any video files from the removable 128GB micro SD card, the drone’s internal memory or from the 128GB iPad. Nothing was readable, even with some of the most advanced software available to the federal government.
There’s no visible damage to the drone in a photo included in the report, so von Stein said it’s unlikely the power failure was caused by a crash. In most other cases, he said, it’s operator error.
While its manual warns to “remove the battery when it is turned on,” the Mavic 2 does have fail safes built in that allows the drone to store recordings in several places when its power is cut off by simply by putting in a battery again.
Von Stein was able to easily recreate this in his lab, as CJI’s app was able to catch up once the battery was put back in. Baskerville’s report doesn’t state whether he tried putting a fresh battery into the Mavic 2, but one wasn’t mentioned in his report.
Despite using several programs to pull data from the Mavic 2 Pro, Baskerville concluded in his report that the video files “contained no data and could not be reconstituted.”
‘We will bring it to light’
Monterrosa’s killing came amid a pandemic and the largest public outrage over police violence in modern U.S. history. The case received national attention as Monterrosa’s sisters, Michelle and Ashley, continued to push for justice for their brother.
Asked about the possibility of evidence from the drone being destroyed, Ashley Monterrosa said “this is one of those cases where they shoot first and ask questions later.”
“They want to get rid of whatever evidence that would signify there was no probable cause,” she said.
Vallejo police Lt. Michael Nichelini, then-head of the department’s traffic division and president of its police union, was put on paid leave last July for allegedly destroying the windshield of the truck, which attorneys for Monterrosa’s family said was a key piece of evidence. Crime scene logs say Nichelini was at the Walgreens the morning of the shooting assisting with the investigation.
Lt. Fabio Rodriguez, head of investigations, was also put on leave around the same time. The state Justice Department opened an investigation into Vallejo police policies and the destruction of the windshield but declined at the time to review the Monterrosa shooting.
But the DOJ said it turned over its investigative file into the alleged destruction of evidence to the Solano County District Attorney’s Office four months ago when Xavier Becerra was attorney general. A DOJ spokesperson declined to elaborate on the findings.
Chief Williams sent Nichelini a notice of termination on Dec. 21, not long after a VPOA email was sent to then-San FranciscoChronicle columnist Otis Taylor Jr., who took the message as a threat. Weeks before he was fired, Nichelini filed a lawsuit seeking $7.5 million in damages from the department and city, claiming unjust treatment. Days after he was terminated, Nichelini filed an amended complaint seeking $10 million and his old job back.
On May 13, Attorney General Rob Bonta, who Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed earlier this year, announced that his office would take over the investigation into Monterrosa’s shooting. In his announcement, Bonta said the police investigation was done by March 10. The findings were given to Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams’ office, which then tried to deliver the investigative file to the Justice Department, according to Bonta.
Abrams tried to do something similar with Becerra, regarding the file from the 2019 Vallejo police killing of Willie McCoy Jr. The DOJ refused to get involved, saying there was no reason local authorities couldn’t handle it.
Abrams’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
None of the agencies have publicly disclosed Vallejo police’s findings in those cases.
In August, when Bonta was a state assemblymember in the East Bay, he voted in favor of AB1506, which requires the state DOJ to conduct an independent investigation into any fatal police shooting involving an unarmed person. That law goes into effect in July.
Whether Monterrosa would be considered armed under the new law is unclear because he had a hammer in the pocket of his sweatshirt. But Bonta’s starting with that case.
Bonta instead said in a statement that he was stepping in because Abrams had abdicated her responsibility.
“Seeing the failure of the District Attorney to fulfill this important responsibility, my office will review the [Monterrosa] case to ensure a fair, thorough, and transparent process is completed,” Bonta said. “If there has been wrongdoing, we will bring it to light.”
Brian Krans is a freelance reporter in the East Bay who covers public health, from cops to COVID. Follow him on Twitter: @citizenkrans.Investigative reporter Scott Morris was editor for this article
VALLEJO – Three years before Vallejo police Det. Jarrett Tonn shot and killed Sean Monterrosa, he fired at a carjacking suspect who was fleeing on foot in a residential neighborhood. Tonn insisted that he saw the man, Victor Hurtado, with a gun, but none was ever found.
New body camera video obtained by JohnGlidden.com shows the best view available of the shooting. Tonn stopped and fired three times at the man’s back as he ran down a sidewalk. Despite finding no gun, Tonn told investigators in a recorded interview obtained through a public records request that “For me to say someone has a gun, it means they have a gun. It means I saw a gun.”
When Tonn shot and killed Monterrosa three years later, he also said he saw a gun, but Monterrosa had no gun.
Despite the lack of a clear threat from Hurtado as he ran away and Tonn’s questionable statement about the gun, Tonn was not disciplined. In fact, a Vallejo Police Department use of force review board found that Tonn should have been quicker to shoot: It recommended that officers be trained to shoot without fear of any civil unrest that may follow the shooting.
But in his interview, Tonn never expressed such a fear. The department did not respond to questions about how this recommendation was implemented or what it meant for the shooting of Monterrosa.
Footage from Vallejo police Det. Jarrett Tonn’s body worn camera (top left), and two home surveillance cameras show what happened on July 8, 2017. (Courtesy of Scott Morris)
Since being hired by Vallejo, Tonn has been sued for alleged civil rights violations four times and been involved in four shootings. The city paid $52,500 to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by a man whom Tonn pulled from a vehicle and held on the ground after he started filming a traffic stop in 2017.
Tonn’s first shooting in Vallejo happened less than a year after he was hired. According to the department’s review of the incident, on Feb. 22, 2015, Tonn and Officer Gary Jones chased the driver of a stolen vehicle for a short time. After the driver, Gerald Brown, stopped, Tonn and Jones got out of the car. Brown allegedly then put the car in reverse and struck Tonn and Jones’ patrol car. Tonn fired 18 times and Jones fired once, wounding Brown.
“Do not fucking move!” Tonn shouted just after he shot Brown. “You move I will put a bullet in your fucking head, do you understand me? You will die.”
A department review board determined that the use of force was appropriate to “effectively neutralize the threat” as handguns can be “unpredictable and ineffective” when fired at cars. Other departments, however, have changed their policies to prevent officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
Tonn was one of several officers who fired on a wanted carjacking suspect, Kevin DeCarlo, on May 31, 2017. He and other detectives were surveilling a home near Martinez where they believed DeCarlo was inside.
One of the detectives, Sean Kenney — who killed three people in 2012 — tried to block DeCarlo’s car in with a pickup truck. DeCarlo allegedly rammed the driver’s side of Kenney’s truck. As other detectives moved in, Tonn and two other detectives fired into the car. Kenney got out of the truck and opened fire. DeCarlo was wounded but survived. A department review board found the shooting to be within policy. An excessive force lawsuit brought by DeCarlo’s passenger, who was not injured, is pending.
Tonn moved back to patrol temporarily after the DeCarlo shooting. He fired his weapon again a little more than a month later, on July 8, 2017. Kenney sent a department-wide email about two suspects in an armed carjacking in Napa County who were wanted by the sheriff’s office there. In an interview with investigators later that night, Tonn said that he found out that a phone taken during the carjacking had been located in Vallejo.
As Tonn drove by shortly before 4 p.m., he saw what appeared to be the stolen car near City Park.
A man ran, but Tonn circled the park, jumped out of the car and sprinted towards the man, later identified as Hurtado, who was hiding in a playground. Hurtado soon took off on foot and Tonn followed.
In a recorded interview later that night, Tonn said he saw a pistol in the man’s right hand.
“I’ve been in a lot of foot pursuits and most people don’t carry guns in their hand,” Tonn said. “Even the people who have guns on them, they’re not running with guns in their hand.”
Vallejo police Det. Jarrett Tonn (top right) is interviewed following the July 8, 2017 shooting incident in which Tonn fired three shots at a fleeing Victor Hurtado. (City of Vallejo)
Tonn recalled that at that point he was within 10 yards of the man and broadcasted on radio, “He has a gun, he has a gun.” Tonn said it was unusual for him to say explicitly that someone he was chasing had a gun. Despite being in “dozens” of foot pursuits of people with guns, Tonn said he often wouldn’t say they have a gun, but that they were “reaching for their waistband” or “might seem to have a gun.”
Tonn said that he yelled several times that he was going to shoot Hurtado as the two continued running. Hurtado then shoved the gun back in his waistband, according to Tonn, which he said made him even more nervous, as he was surprised he didn’t try to get rid of it. Tonn said he intentionally slowed down and allowed Hurtado to gain distance on him. He said Hurtado tried to pull the gun back out of his waistband again while still running away.
After turning a corner, Tonn stopped and fired three rounds at Hurtado, who was nearly a block away down Santa Clara Street at that point. Hurtado turned another corner and by the time Tonn got there, he was out of sight. Tonn, still pointing his gun up the street, called on the radio, “I lost the subject. He was reaching for his waistband, had a gun.”
Footage from Vallejo police Det. Jarrett Tonn’s body-worn camera during the July 8, 2017 shooting incident. (City of Vallejo)
Napa County Sheriff’s deputies arrived as Tonn walked down the street. Two women ran out of a home about half a block up the street. Tonn said during his interview that they told him the man had thrown a gun, but in body camera video, they only said that he was hiding in a shed in the backyard, not that they’d seen a gun. Tonn then turned off his body camera. He said it was because he was about to discuss a tactical plan.
Tonn was relieved by another officer and left. Hurtado was arrested in the shed, but no gun was ever found. The district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Hurtado for resisting or obstructing an officer and he was released two days later. Prosecutors charged Hurtado with a carjacking in Napa County. He accepted a plea deal for 10 years in prison.
The only evidence that investigators ever found that Hurtado had a gun was a blurry frame from a porch camera that captured the shooting. Detective Rob Greenberg wrote in a report that there was an object visible in Hurtado’s hand. “I can clearly see the item is larger than a cell phone and probably the gun seen by Ofc. Tonn,” Greenberg wrote.
The department’s Critical Incident Review Board examined the incident the following February. The board found that the shooting was within department policy and that Tonn’s tactics were sound and within accepted practices. In fact, because of Tonn’s assertion that he saw Hurtado take his gun out and put it back in his waistband multiple times, it found that Tonn was not quick enough to shoot. It recommended that officers be trained to react “without consideration for potential future civil unrest.”
After police officers in Minneapolis killed George Floyd in May 2020, protests swept the country, including in the Bay Area and Vallejo. Caravans traveled from city to city looting stores, leading Vallejo to impose a curfew.
At about 12:30 a.m. on June 2, Vallejo officers, including Tonn, responded to reports of looting at a Walgreens on Redwood Street. As the officers pulled into the parking lot in an unmarked pickup truck, Tonn, who was riding in the back seat, fired a high-powered rifle through the windshield, killing 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa of San Francisco.
Tonn got out of the car. “What did he point at us?” he asked the other officers.
“I don’t know man,” another officer answered.
“He pointed a gun at us!” Tonn said.
But Monterrosa had no gun. Police found a hammer in his sweatshirt pocket. Although not visible in any video released by the department, police initially reported Monterrosa was on his knees when Tonn fired.
The Vallejo police investigation into Monterrosa’s shooting, as well as an independent review by the OIR Group, is ongoing.
Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams recused her office from investigating the shooting. On Thursday, state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that his office would conduct an independent review of the shooting, citing the “failure of the Solano County DA to to fulfill her responsibility.”
My office will conduct an independent review of the officer-involved shooting death of Sean Monterrosa.
Without accountability, there is no justice.
It’s past time Sean Monterrosa’s family, the community, and the people of Vallejo get some answers.https://t.co/36MpV7jtcT
In response to Bonta’s announcement, John Burris, an attorney for Monterrosa’s family, said the Vallejo police command staff “knew or should have known that this was Tonn’s fourth shooting in five years.”
“By failing to discipline officers for misconduct, Vallejo’s police command staff essentially ratified the bad conduct,” he said.
Scott Morris is an independent journalist in Oakland covering policing, protest and civil rights. If you appreciate his work please consider making a contribution.
(VALLEJO, Calif.) The Vallejo Police Department is currently investigating a threatening email that was allegedly sent to a reporter by the police union, KTVU2 reports.
In response to the allegation, Police Chief Shawny Williams issued a statement saying, “We do not condone any form of disrespect, discourteous behavior or act of intimidation toward our media partners.”
The email was sent Otis Taylor Jr., a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle by the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association saying, “2021 will be a little bit better not having your biased and un-informed articles printed in the newspaper.”
The email also stated, “We will warn our Georgia colleagues of your impending arrival.”
Taylor is stepping down from the Chronicle and moving to Georgia. Taylor had reported on the Vallejo PD while working for the Chronicle.