SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Responding to a looting call in June during the peak of the George Floyd protests, a group of police drove into a Walgreens parking lot and pierced the dark, thick San Francisco Bay Area air with a spate of bullets.
With the unmarked pickup truck still moving, a Vallejo police officer aimed his rifle from where he sat in the back seat and fired a kill shot into his target, 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa.
The police killing of another unarmed person of color not only roiled residents of the Bay Area city but drew the suspicion of the state’s attorney general. Now the shooting has spawned a federal lawsuit, with Monterrosa’s family claiming he was killed by a “trigger-happy” Vallejo police officer.
“They have not been through this before and will never be all right again, because defendant Jarrett Tonn was trigger-happy, could not see accurately through the unmarked police car windshield, and murdered their son and brother, who was only 22 years old,” the family says in their 15-page complaint filed Thursday.
The family claims Monterrosa was on his knees with his hands raised when he was killed by a single AR-15 semi-automatic rifle round that entered his neck and exited his skull. Monterrosa, whose parents immigrated from Argentina, had a hammer in his sweatshirt pocket and the plaintiffs claim he was “suspected at most of looting.”
In video released by the department, an officer moments after the shooting says “he pointed a gun at us.” The same officer goes on to command Monterrosa — lying lifeless near the drive-thru pharmacy — not to move and asks the other officers whether they saw him with a gun.
As protests over police brutality continued across the state and country, the department waited more than a day to announce the incident. The department claims Monterrosa was a suspect at the scene of a burglary and carrying a 15-inch hammer.
More than two months after the shooting, the department has yet to release the officer’s name, citing a court order. But it says current use-of-force guidelines do allow and officers are trained to shoot through windows when encountering an armed suspect.
While the department hasn’t publicly released the officer’s name, the plaintiffs’ attorney John Burris is confident enough to name Jarrett Tonn in the lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of California.
“It was a panicky officer who was involved in three prior shootings. He was unfit to carry a gun,” Burris said in a phone interview.
The Monterrosa family accuses the city, Tonn and unnamed police officers of wrongful death, excessive force, Monell violations and due process. It asks for unspecified general, special and punitive damages.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley, a Barack Obama appointee.
In response to the lawsuit, the city says its “hearts go out” to the family.
“We respect their right to initiate legal action and we respect the judicial process to follow. We know this is a painful step for the Monterrosa family. It is our sincere hope that this process will guide the family and our community toward healing,” the city said in a statement.
Meanwhile the department is also facing scrutiny from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is investigating whether officers purposely damaged evidence from the shooting.
The shattered windshield was disposed of after the shooting and the truck was placed back into service without permission from the city attorney. The investigation was prompted by a request from the city itself and it has also placed an employee on administrative leave.
Burris, who is handling several civil rights and excessive force cases against the city, said he’s lost an opportunity to do expert analysis of the windshield.
“Experienced officers wouldn’t destroy evidence,” Burris said. “Unless they were trying to cover something up.”
The shooting and missing evidence continue a disturbing pattern at the Vallejo Police Department, Burris contends.
“The department is out of control; the union has too much power.”