Officers’ bodycam footage was released Wednesday from the fatal shooting of a San Francisco man who police in Vallejo, California, say was partially kneeling when he was killed last month. But the videos do not show the moments leading up to the shooting.
The footage was made public after the family of Sean Monterrosa, 22, was permitted to view the recordings. Vallejo police said three officers in a pickup truck activated their cameras, but none of the footage showed Monterrosa prior to an officer in the back seat firing his weapon through the front windshield. The vehicle did not have a camera.
“It was quite surprising and shocking to us that there was no video of the actual shooting itself,” John Burris, an attorney for Monterrosa’s family, said at a news conference. The footage does include the shooting, but does not offer a view of Monterrosa until after he had been hit.
Vallejo police said the officers were responding to a report of looting after midnight June 2 when they encountered Monterrosa in a Walgreens parking lot, Police Chief Shawny Williams said in a recorded message packaged with the bodycam footage.
There was a previous incident at the scene in which a police car was rammed and officers described seeing multiple “potential looters” get into cars and flee, Williams said. When the other officers arrived, Williams said, Monterrosa began running toward a car, then stopped and crouched in a half-kneeling position facing them.
One of the officers told investigators he believed Monterrosa had a gun in his sweatshirt pocket and was kneeling “as if in preparation to shoot,” moving his hands toward his jacket at their approaching vehicle, Williams said.
The officer fired his weapon five times through the windshield, striking Monterrosa, according to authorities.
Police discovered the object inside his pocket wasn’t a gun, but a long hammer.
The hammer could not be seen in the video, but police on Wednesday released an image of it.
After Monterrosa was shot, the officer who fired his weapon could be heard asking, “What’d he point at us?”
“I don’t know, man,” another officer replies.
“Hey, he pointed a gun at us,” the first officer said.
As Monterrosa lay on the ground, officers commanded him not to move and, “Put your hands out. Put your hands out.”
They began to give him medical attention, including chest compressions, before medics arrived.
“Any time a life is lost, it’s tragic, and our thoughts are with Mr. Monterrosa’s family at this time,” Williams said in his message. At a news conference Wednesday after the video’s release, the police chief said that because the investigation is ongoing, it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment about the officer deciding to shoot from the back seat of a vehicle and through a windshield.
Burris said that without seeing Monterrosa’s actions before the shooting, the police’s account of having to use deadly force isn’t corroborated and Monterrosa may have been in the process of surrendering.
“We want to know whether it’s a police officer’s imagination that justified the shooting or that there’s some real evidence to support that,” Burris said.
In the days following the shooting, Monterrosa’s family and police brutality protesters had called for the release of bodycam video. Police in Vallejo, a Bay Area city about 30 miles north of San Francisco, have been the subject of dozens of excessive force lawsuits and complaints of overly aggressive policing in recent years. Monterrosa’s death is the 18th fatal police-involved shooting since 2010, and the majority of those killed were Black and brown men, records show. Monterrosa was Latino.
The officer who fired his weapon has not been identified by the city, which said it “upholds its right to release the name of the officer at a time and through a method of its choosing.” The Vallejo Police Officers’ Association, the local police union, also filed a temporary restraining order to prevent the release of the officer’s identity. The city said the name could be released once the matter is resolved.
The officer has been placed on paid administrative leave, along with the other witness officers at the scene.
Monterrosa’s sisters have been outspoken about challenging the police department and its timeline of his death. In the initial news release, police failed to say Monterrosa was killed, and Williams did not publicly announce it until a news conference the following afternoon. But the family has previously told reporters that Monterrosa was declared dead at the hospital about an hour after the incident.
“The department worked as quickly as reasonably possible to gather accurate information from the initial phases of the investigation to share with the public,” Vallejo police said on the city’s website.
While police said officers described seeing suspected looters at the scene, the department has not released evidence that Monterrosa was engaged in criminal activity. His sisters said they do not know what he was doing in Vallejo.
Prior to Monterrosa’s death, the California Department of Justice had begun talks with Vallejo officials to undertake an “expansive review” of the police department, an agreement announced June 5 and seen as a positive step by community activists and family members of those killed by police. However, Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined that same month to independently investigate Monterrosa’s shooting, leaving it to the Solano County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges are warranted.
In the wake of protests demanding an outside investigation, District Attorney Krishna Abrams announced last week that she has recused her office from investigations into the death of Monterrosa, as well as the 2019 police shooting of Willie McCoy, a young Black man who was killed in a hail of bullets after waking up in his car. Officers said they saw a handgun on the lap of the Bay Area rapper who fell asleep at a drive-thru.
“As our attorney general has said himself, when our communities speak up we must listen … I too am listening and hearing their pleas for an independent investigation,” Abrams said.
Becerra’s office did not respond to a request for comment about which agency is leading the investigations.