Signing the petition, making the call or writing the email has never been and will never be pointless
By Nathalie Christian, May 8, 2023
Sometimes signing petitions and writing emails or calls like those suggested below can feel . . . pointless at best, and performative at worst. But these actions – even as insignificant as they may feel – are neither.
Research, experience and most importantly results prove time and again that policymakers absolutely consider petitions, phone calls, emails and yet more petitions when making decisions. While your pebble may feel small, adding it to a pile and encouraging others in your networks to add their pebbles as well are the first steps in triggering a landslide.
In full disclosure, you may need a few more than three clicks to complete the three proposed actions laid out here today, but you can still make a big difference in the time it takes for your tea or coffee to brew. And the minutes you take today can influence years of decision-making and legislation, and ultimately the lifetimes of many.
[Note: I am ordering these by urgency, not importance. For example, while the EPA is accepting public comment on proposed regulations through July 5, there are important hearings May 9, 10 and 11 that you may want to know about.]
1. Call or Email: Tell your Assembly Members to OPPOSE Assembly Bill 538, which threatens California’s clean energy goals and autonomy
Anyone can participate in this important action, but if you’re living Bay Area Assembly Districts 11 (Lori Wilson), 21 (Diane Papan) and 28 (Gail Pellerin), your voice is especially needed. (Find out which district you live in here. If you live in Solano County, Lori Wilson is your assembly representative.)
These three members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee are voting on a grid-related bill that 350 Bay Area Action, the Sierra Club and Indivisible will lump California in with a multistate regional transmission organization, potentially throwing a pretty big wrench in CA’s efforts to meet its clean energy goals. The phone numbers, email addresses and script below provide a quick way you can help oppose this bill.
If you’re a constituent of AD 11, 21 or 28: Please use the following message for calling or emailing . . .
I am your constituent and a member of 350 Bay Area Action, a 20,000-member strong climate justice organization. After long consideration, we have taken an OPPOSE position on AB 538.
AB 538 creates a new multi-Western state electricity market that would threaten California’s clean energy goals and autonomy without significantly improving access to regional energy markets. Proposed amendments cannot fix this bill.
If the bill is on the Consent Calendar, please request that it be it taken off.
Once it’s off Consent, please don’t vote for it. Either vote against it, or don’t vote.
Thank you for your consideration!
[Name / City]
Non-constituents: Use the above message and simply start by saying you’re a member of 350 Bay Area Action.
2. Petition or public comment: Support the most ambitious vehicle emissions regulations ever proposed.
The EPA has just proposed what the Climate Reality Project is calling “the strongest regulations on vehicle emissions ever.” Despite improved regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, light- and medium-duty vehicles (like passenger cars and delivery trucks) still produce a tremendous amount of toxic tailpipe pollutants. According to Climate Reality, the regulations the EPA proposed could prevent nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 emissions through 2055.
Naturally, the proposed regulations are under attack by the usual suspects. While the EPA is still taking public comments, they need to hear from us. It’s up to average citizens like you and me to balance the histrionics from the conservatives and corporations who desperately want to keep fossil fuels-guzzling cars on the road.
Here are three ways you can support this ambitious new set of regulations:
Members of the Solano County ACLU Chapter started this petition to demand independent, external oversight over the very troubled Vallejo Police Department. The case the petition makes is clear, compelling and actionable. Anyone can sign (even if you don’t live in Vallejo), so please take a quick minute to do so and then to share it with your networks.
From the petition: “Vallejo Police Department (VPD) is the most troubled police department in northern California. This is clear to residents of Vallejo, potential VPD applicants, local and national media, and police professionals in the Bay Area. But this has never been directly acknowledged by our leaders, nor has there been a substantive attempt to make amends to the families who have lost loved ones, to those who have been subjected to police abuse, or to the community. Past attempts at reform have been completely ineffective.”
[P. S. I am sorry for shoving three important actions in a single post, possibly reducing the chances that you will complete any of them. The Benicia Independent has a backlog of articles and posts I want to publish and, in the interest of time and space, I am compromising. I encourage you to share these actions with your networks and really highlight the need and the urgency to ensure we have the best chance of being heard on these important topics. –N.C.]
Read more!While we’re talking about Air Quality, check out these resources:
VALLEJO – The city of Vallejo “inadvertently” destroyed audio and video records in five police shooting investigations from the department’s most violent two-year span before the material would have been publicly released as required by law, according to the Vallejo City Attorney’s Office.
The records were destroyed in early 2021 before their destruction was allowed under city policy. Assistant City Attorney Katelyn Knight revealed that they had been destroyed in a series of emails in response to several public records requests for audio and video materials by the Vallejo Sun.
Evidence destruction logs released by the city indicate that the evidence was destroyed on Jan. 11, Jan. 13 and Jan. 20, 2021, and each item indicates that the city attorney’s office approved their disposal. The Sun requested all police shooting records in the possession of Vallejo police in early 2019.
The records could have provided insight to one of the department’s most violent and scrutinized periods, when Vallejo police killed six people in 2012. Some of the records destroyed were from one of the most controversial shootings in the department’s history: the killing of Mario Romero by Officers Sean Kenney and Dustin Joseph on Sept. 2, 2012.
Romero was sitting with his brother-in-law in a parked car when officers approached them and allegedly told them to put their hands up. Kenney and Joseph fired at the car, reloaded and fired again, only stopping after Romero slumped back into the driver’s seat. Family members who witnessed the shooting say they saw Kenney continue to fire while standing on the car’s hood. Romero was shot 30 times and died at a hospital. In 2015, Vallejo paid a $2 million settlement to Romero’s family.
The records destroyed in the Romero investigation include recordings of interviews with Kenney and Joseph, interviews with witnesses, documents from those interviews and video of officers canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses, among other evidence, according to destruction logs released by the city.
According to the city’s retention schedule, it is required to retain such records for five years following closure of the case, well short of the 25 years recommended by the state Department of Justice. In the Romero shooting, the administrative investigation was not reviewed by then-police Chief Andrew Bidou until September 2016. The city destroyed the records on Jan. 11, 2021, less than five years after Bidou’s review, while several requests for the material were pending.
Knight said that the other shootings affected were the fatal shooting of 44-year-old Marshall Tobin by Officers Joseph McCarthy and Robert Kerr on July 4, 2012; the fatal shooting of 42-year-old William Heinze by Officers Dustin Joseph, Ritzie Tolentino and Josh Coleman on March 20, 2013; the fatal shooting of 57-year-old Mohammad Naas by Officer Steve Darden on June 8, 2013; and the injury shooting of Tony Ridgeway by Officer Josh Coleman on Aug, 24, 2013.
Coleman recently testified in Solano County Superior Court that after the Heinze shooting, then-Sgt. Kent Tribble bent the tip of his badge to mark the shooting in a bar across the street from police headquarters while Joseph was present. Coleman testified that no one would be allowed to watch the badge bending ritual unless they had also participated.
Coleman has since left the department to join the Napa County Sheriff’s Office and Joseph is a police officer in Fairfield, where he has been the target of protests following the revelations that officers participated in the badge-bending tradition.
The destroyed records had previously been secret under state law, but became public records after the state legislature passed SB 1421 in 2018, which made investigations into police shootings public records. The city received numerous public records requests for any such records once the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, but it has struggled to comply and has been releasing records at a snail’s pace for nearly four years.
Knight said that the city would not destroy any further records until its public records requests are completed and that the city had taken steps to ensure that no further records are destroyed.
But Knight declined to say what steps were taken. “While we are unable to share privileged communications from our office to City Departments, the City has in place an administrative process for records management,” she wrote.
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