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Man shot dead by Vallejo officer had a hammer but no gun

A sign alerting customers to a closed Walgreens store in Vallejo, Calif.
A sign alerting customers to a closed Walgreens store is seen Wednesday in Vallejo, Calif. A person was shot by police when people began breaking into stores late Monday.
(Ben Margo / Associated Press)

When a Vallejo police officer shot a looting suspect to death shortly after midnight Tuesday, the city was engulfed in chaos.

Sean Monterrosa, 22, who lived in South San Francisco, was killed outside a Walgreens store where officers were responding to reports of looting in Vallejo, a racially diverse city of 121,000 northeast of San Francisco in Solano County

Brittany Jackson, a spokeswoman for Vallejo police, described the turmoil on Monday night and Tuesday morning as “horrible.” Calls were coming in about looting around the city, she said Thursday, and the department had intelligence that the looters were coordinating the “attack” on social media.

John Burris, a civil rights lawyer representing Monterrosa’s family, agreed that Vallejo was being “ravaged” that night.

On Thursday, Vallejo police continued to refuse to reveal the name of the officer who shot Monterrosa after allegedly mistaking a hammer in the man’s pocket for a gun. The department did not report that Monterrosa had died until more than 24 hours after the shooting, and a state assemblyman has called for an independent investigation.

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Jackson said the officer was on paid administrative leave and would be identified eventually. She said she did not know why the name had not yet been released. The officer has been identified only as an 18-year veteran of the department.

The city was calm on Thursday. Some people in the parking lot of the Walgreens where the shooting occurred said they had been unaware of it.

Police said they first responded to a call about the Walgreens store at 10:17 p.m. Monday. It was after a second call about the store at 12:15 a.m. that Monterrosa died.

The first officers on the scene were in a police cruiser. They said they saw about a dozen suspected looters jump into a silver pickup and a black sedan in the parking lot. The truck sped away. Before fleeing, the driver of the sedan rammed into the cruiser, causing the airbag to deploy and injuring an officer, police said.

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Two other uniformed officers in an unmarked car pulled in and saw Monterrosa, dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, first run toward the sedan and then drop to his knee. Police said the officer who shot Monterrosa saw his hands moving toward his waist near what appeared to be the butt of a handgun.

The officer fired five shots through the windshield of the unmarked car at Monterrosa, who died later at a hospital. He had no gun; tucked into the pocket of his sweatshirt was a 15-inch hammer, police said.

Suspects in the silver truck that fled the scene were later apprehended. The black sedan was not found.

Burris disputed that Monterrosa posed a threat.

He had been left behind when the two vehicles sped away, Burris said, adding, “He immediately dropped to his knees, and it looks like he was in the process of putting up his hands.”

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Police may have perceived a threat, but Monterrosa “didn’t do anything with the hammer,” Burris said. “He didn’t reach for it. He didn’t pull it out. ... Our view is they never gave the boy a chance. He was trying to surrender.”

“It’s a pretty outrageous shooting,” Burris said. “The officer’s life was not in danger.”

Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams said at a news conference Wednesday that some elite officers are trained to shoot through windshields, a practice permitted under department policy.

Burris, who plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Vallejo police, said Monterrosa’s family was distraught and “horrified.” When Burris called them to discuss the case, “the mother cried and cried and cried,” he said. The family has set up a GoFundMe page.

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Monterrosa was the middle child of three children born to immigrants from Argentina. His father worked as a physician in Argentina and now works in a factory, Burris said. His mother, who was a dancer in Argentina, is now a child-care worker. His older sister, 24, graduated from college, and his younger sister, 20, is still in college, Burris said.

Monterrosa had been working as a cement mason, Burris said.

“He was very good with his hands, a fix-it kind of guy,” he said. “When he was 13 or 14, he had a hot dog stand, helping the family make money.”

Burris said he could not find any evidence that Monterrosa was convicted of any crime, though one of his sisters said he was once arrested for a marijuana offense.

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Vallejo police said Monterrosa had a police record that included shoplifting, petty theft, illegal weapons violations, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting into an inhabited dwelling, carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, possession of narcotics for sale and attempted murder.

Burris has sued Vallejo and other cities several times over police shootings. “That department is out of control,” he said.

Williams said the Police Department did not purposefully delay reporting the man’s killing out of fear of violent protests. Monday had just been a “horrific night” for the department, he said, calling it an “orchestrated, organized assault on our city.”

Asked several times at the news conference whether the officer had used excessive force, Williams declined to answer, saying the district attorney “will make the ultimate finding if the force was legal.”

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The shooting is being investigated by both the Vallejo Police Department and the Solano County district attorney.

The National Guard was deployed Tuesday in Vallejo. A protest on Wednesday was peaceful.

Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D-Concord) was upset that Vallejo waited so long to report that Monterrosa had died.

“Regardless of circumstances, it is absolutely unacceptable that the public was forced to wait for over 24 hours to learn of the conditions of those involved in the shooting,” Grayson said.

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He called for an independent investigation in the shooting by the California attorney general or a federal agency.

“The family of Sean Monterrosa and our community in Vallejo deserve to have clear information about the events that occurred and the response from the Vallejo Police Department,” Grayson said.


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