City of Vallejo and CA Dept of Justice join to reform Vallejo police policies and practices

Vallejo mayor Bob Sampayan welcomes Department of Justice help

Jorge and Lynda Moreno, former roomates of Sean Monterrosa, protest in front of City Hall prior to a Friday afternoon march. Monterrosa was killed by a Vallejo police officer on Tuesday morning. (Chris Riley — Times-Herald)
Vallejo Times-Herald, by John Glidden, June 6, 2020

“We need a police department our community can trust.”

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said Saturday he fully supports a partnership between the city of Vallejo and the California Department of Justice to put together a policing plan that will reform the department’s policies and practices.

“We need to have an objective and impartial eye to look at the police department,” added Sampayan, a retired sergeant with the Vallejo Police Department.

On Friday, both the city and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the collaboration three days after Sean Monterrosa, 22, was shot and killed outside a Vallejo Walgreens.

Monterrosa is the fourth person to be fatally shot by Vallejo police during the past four years.

“Our communities are safer when our police departments can build public trust through good policies, practices, and training. This review and reform agreement we announce today with the City of Vallejo represents a critical step the Vallejo Police Department must take to build trust with people who have lost faith in them,” Becerra said in a news release. “When our communities speak up, we must listen — and, in recent days, people across California and the nation, and in Vallejo have bravely come together to make their voices heard. This is only a first step in our broader fight for racial justice. We must all do our part, and we must do it now.”

The Bay Area News Group, along with the Times-Herald, and Open Vallejo reported Friday that Vallejo officer Jarrett Tonn shot and killed Monterrosa after the officer mistook a hammer in Monterrosa’s waistband for a gun. Tonn fired his service weapon at Monterrosa through the windshield of his police cruiser outside the Walgreens on Redwood Street.

Police were responding to a call of looting at the store as the entire city of Vallejo was under a curfew.

Vallejo police Lt. Michael Nichelini, president of the Vallejo Police Officer’s Association, couldn’t be reached for comment on Saturday about the collaboration between the city and the California Department of Justice.

The union did release a statement on Friday in response to the Monterrosa shooting, stating “the officer is facing multiple death threats to him and his children. We ask the public to support this officer and the good work the overwhelming majority of all officers perform to keep our communities safe.”

“Throughout the night officers were responding to groups of armed looters all over the city. Seconds before this confrontation in the parking lot of a Walgreens, an officer put on the radio that it appeared the looters were armed. 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 VPOA 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.”

Sampayan said he’s confident the comprehensive policing plan will help improve the relationship between the community and police department.

“This will help to bring back the public’s trust, having an open and transparent police department,” he added. “Our police chief, Shawny Williams, has been tasked with change — I have a lot of faith in Chief Williams.”

Sampayan confirmed by signed the Mayor’s Pledge issued by former President Barack Obama to address police use of force policies. He also said he’s pursuing the policies in “8 can’t wait,” which include banning police choke holds, requiring de-escalation, requiring a warning before police shoot, exhausting all other methods before shooting, having a duty to interfere, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring use of force continuum, and requiring comprehensive training.

“I want to start a dialogue with the community,” Sampayan previously said.

Following a closed session of the Vallejo City Council on Friday, it was announced councilors had directed city staff to place an item on Tuesday’s council agenda to ratify an agreement with the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ).

The seven-person council will also vote on directing staff to a letter to Becerra, asking his office to conduct a thorough and independent criminal investigation into the Monterrosa shooting.