Bonta Bites Back

New California attorney general opens case on Vallejo police killing of Sean Monterossa

On May 13th, in a surprise announcement, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office will investigate the fatal officer-involved shooting of Sean Monterrosa by a Vallejo police detective last year to determine if criminal charges will be filed in the case.

Bonta also criticized Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams for “unilaterally abdicating her responsibility” in failing to investigate the June 2, 2020 shooting.

“It’s past time Sean Monterrosa’s family, the community and the people of Vallejo get some answers,” Bonta said in a news release from his office. “They deserve to know where the case stands. Instead, they’ve been met with silence. It’s time for that to change; it’s time for action.

Monterrosa’s family issued a statement expressing gratitude over Bonta’s decision to investigate the death of their loved one.

“We are encouraged by the fact that this will be done by Attorney General Bonta and the Department of Justice directly. It feels incredibly meaningful to finally receive the respect our family and Sean deserved these past nearly 12 months,” the family said. “We have made deep sacrifices to get to this point.”

Reached for comment, civil rights attorney Melissa Nold said she was thrilled that Bonta has agreed to investigate the shooting, but expressed concern that the attorney general will stop at the Monterrosa shooting and not investigate the police department as a whole. 

Nold pointed to the badge-bending controversy first reported by the independent newsroom Open Vallejo in July 2020, in which Vallejo officers bent the tips of their star-shaped badges following their involvement in fatal shootings.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Nold said. “Maybe an investigation about badge bending is in the works, but just investigating one shooting isn’t enough.”

Nold, who is pushing for federal oversight of the department, isn’t a fan of Abrams. 

“Our DA failed to do her job,” Nold said. She represents the family of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old Suisun City man shot and killed by six Vallejo police officers in February 2019.

Abrams has come under fire for outright refusing to investigate the Monterrosa and McCoy shootings, as she faced questions about her objectivity in investigating fatal police shootings in Solano County. Since being elected district attorney in 2014, her office has cleared every single Vallejo police shooting that has landed on her desk.

In January of this year, a special prosecutor hired by Abrams to investigate the McCoy shooting determined the involved officers were “legally justified.”

Bonta also expressed his ire with Abrams, claiming she once again punted responsibility in March when local authorities presented their findings to her office.

“Subsequently, the District Attorney, without invitation or notice, attempted to deliver the investigative file to the California Department of Justice,” Bonta said in a statement. “In effect, the District Attorney demanded that the Department assume the responsibilities she was elected to carry out, despite the fact that no known circumstances prevented her from discharging her duties.”

A month after Monterrosa’s death, Abrams’ office released a four-minute video in which the DA said she would not be investigating either shootings.

TOP PRIORITY  Oakland artist Oree Original partnered with gallery space Premiere Jr. to raise awareness of Monterossa’s case. Photo by Graham Holoch

“Given the exceptional circumstances … and the lack of public trust from some community members, it is my professional judgment that our office must recuse itself from any further review of these two cases,” Abrams said in the video.

Her public refusal to investigate came after then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to have the California Department of Justice investigate Monterrosa’s death.

Abrams’ refusal also caused the city’s interim city attorney to issue a rare public statement threatening legal action if the DA didn’t investigate the shootings.

Abrams couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. —Bay City News

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