When Black Lives Matter protesters met up Friday afternoon at Vallejo City Hall around 5 p.m., they were met by blocked streets. That didn’t seem to phase a crowd intent on honoring a 22-year-old man who also saw his own path cut short.
Hundreds of people marched for about 2.5 miles, starting down Georgia Street, then making a left on Sonoma Boulevard and then finally a right on Redwood Street to Walgreens —the place where Sean Monterrosa was killed by a Vallejo police officer on Tuesday morning.
During the march, the East Bay Times, in conjunction with the Times-Herald, released a story reporting that the officer who killed Monterrosa was Jarrett Tonn.
The marchers discovered this about halfway through the march while blocking the intersection of Tennessee Street and Sonoma Boulevard.
“That’s where it happened,” Maui Wilson said. “The police station was blocked off and Walgreens we knew would be a little safer. We had people marching with wheelchairs and we also had kids and the elderly. There is a time and place for everything, but safety was a key issue.”
Before moving to San Francisco to live with his girlfriend, Monterrosa lived in San Lorenzo with Lynda and Jorge Moreno for nine months. When Lynda heard they were going to Walgreens as the destination of the march she said, “it felt right.”
Once at Walgreens, the large crowd, which had grown substantially during the trip, with many cars honking in support, paid respects to Monterrosa by taking a knee in silence, as well as holding up their hands as if surrendering.
The kneeling and hands up were to symbolize Monterrosa, who was at the same Walgreens Monday night and early Tuesday morning as the store was being looted. According to Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams, officers in a unit saw a “single male dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt standing on the east side of the building.” The person was later identified as Monterrosa.
In a report on Wednesday, Williams went on: “The officers saw this individual begin running toward the black sedan when he stopped and abruptly turned toward the officers, crouching down in a half-kneeling position as if in preparation to shoot, and moving his hands toward his waist area near what appeared to be the butt of a handgun. Investigations later revealed that the weapon was a long, 15-inch hammer, tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt.”
That’s when the officer, Tonn, reportedly fired his pistol five times, striking Monterrosa once. Monterrosa was declared dead several hours later.
In a Wednesday press conference, Williams refused to say the killing was excessive force. On Friday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra came to an agreement with the City of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police Department to collaborate on a comprehensive policing plan in an effort to modernize and reform VPD’s policies and practices and increase public trust.
On Friday night, the VPD sent out a press release explaining the situation with Monterrosa on Tuesday morning.
“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,” the statement reads. “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.”
Meanwhile, angry protesters shouted demands that the VPD release body cam footage. The department has 45 days to release the footage, while Williams has said he wants to release in a shorter time period.
The crowd remained peaceful for the most part until at least 8 p.m. Police kept their distance as well, with only a pair of officers on motorcycles a few blocks away as a helicopter also followed the march from the sky. The National Guard was also on hand at City Hall, but didn’t intercede during the rally. Many protesters were able to hug members of the National Guard moments before beginning the march.
“We’re here to show support for the community,” Sgt. James Fontenot said. “We want to take care of each other. The city asked us to be here and we were happy to do it. There’s been a lot of turmoil and we’re here to do whatever to keep everyone safe.”
Fontenot would not say how long the National Guard is in town, saying “We’re here for as long as the community needs us before directing us to go somewhere else.”
During the rally, Jorge Moreno, a longtime childhood friend of Monterrosa, spoke with passion and anger, but called for peace and an end to racial discrimination.
“Tonight, we want the badge off,” Moreno said. “This guy (Tonn) is an 18-year-old veteran. He knew what he was doing. They always do stuff like that and get away with it.
Intersections were blocked off at Sonoma Boulevard and Valle Vista Street, along with Sonoma and Redwood Street, Redwood and Couch Street, and Tennessee and Sonoma Boulevard. Most of the cars stuck in traffic seemed to be in support of the cause, honking and watching as protesters kneeled and raised their hands while shouting, “No justice, no peace. No racists, no peace” as well as, “Say his name, Sean Monterrrosa!”
While sitting at the intersection of Tennessee and Sonoma, Vallejoan Chiara Reeves yelled out, “Yeah we definitely look dangerous like this!”
Earlier in the night, Lynda and Jorge Moreno reflected on the life of Monterrosa and also the night he died. Jorge, along with other friends, have a group chat that has been going on for years.
“He (Monterrosa) sent a message out that night saying that ‘He was going out’ but he didn’t specify what he would be doing,” Lynda Moreno said. “Another friend said he had a bad feeling and told him to stay safe.”
“I think he found himself in a position he didn’t want to be in, but circumstances around him didn’t allow him to get out of it,” Lynda continued. “He got caught up in something he didn’t want. His girlfriend felt scared and called him up and I guess heard the whole thing on the phone. She heard gunshots and then she screamed his name over and over but didn’t hear a response.”
While Lynda said she’ll remember his laugh and smile, Jorge also said hearing the news of his friend’s death was very difficult.
“I found out from a friend calling me,” Jorge said. “I found out sitting on the couch he used to sleep on while he was living here. I was a little older than him, but he had a big heart.”
Protester DeMarcus Tanner said change needs to come immediately in the police department.
“Are you telling me five of these officers couldn’t have just gotten out and tackled him to take him down?” Tanner said. “Where does the gun come into play? Police officers are supposed to be there to protect, but where is the protection? We’re in a recession and nobody wants this. First we were losing lives due to the coronavirus, now we’re losing lives due to the police.”
Lynda Moreno also spoke of change, but needs to see it.
“There has been a lot of talk of it, but I haven’t seen it. They say they want to change, but say what you mean and mean what you say,” Lynda Moreno said. “Nobody should be abusing power like this.”