Former officer Jarrett Tonn is being reinstated to the Vallejo Police Department nearly a year after being fired for his role in the killing of Sean Monterrosa in June of 2020, says the Monterrosa family attorney. The reinstatement comes after the firing was overturned on Aug. 18.
“His reinstatement is demonstrative of Vallejo’s lack of accountability and vice-like grip the Vallejo Police Officer’s association has on the citizens,” Monterrosa family attorney Lee Merritt said of Tonn, who killed Monterrosa during a night of civil unrest in 2020. “The people of Vallejo deserve better. The family of Sean deserves better.”
Merritt called the decision, “appalling” and said Tonn’s behavior “has fractured the Vallejo community.”
According to Tonn’s lawyer Joshua A. Olander, Tonn has been reinstated with full back pay. Olander said the decision was issued after an evidentiary hearing and represented the second determination by a neutral hearing officer that Detective Tonn’s use of deadly force was legally justified and his termination was not supported by the facts and the law. Olander also said the decision confirmed that Mr. Monterrosa posed an imminent and deadly threat and that Detective Tonn’s use of force was objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.
During a night of civil unrest in 2020, Tonn, believing Monterrosa was reaching for a gun, fired five shots from an AR-15 rifle from the back seat, killing Monterrosa with a shot to the neck and head at a Walgreens store in Vallejo. It was later determined that Monterrosa had, in fact, a claw hammer in his sweatshirt pocket.”
“The ruling noted that City’s use of force experts – the OIR Group – improperly based their decision on hindsight analysis that is expressly prohibited under California law,” Olander said in the statement. “Noting the similar perceptions of the three involved SWAT officers, the hearing officer determined that ‘Monterrosa presented a life-threatening danger justifying the use of deadly force,’ and that Detective Tonn “reasonably perceived that Monterrosa had the present ability, opportunity, and intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to them.’ Further, Mr. Monterrosa’s actions immediately preceding the shooting were determined to be inconsistent with surrender or retreat.”
The attorney said Tonn’s reinstatement presents a danger to the Vallejo community.
“This murder was the third time Tonn has fired his weapon at an unarmed citizen,” Merritt said. “The Vallejo community can have no faith in Tonn as a community member, let alone as a law enforcement officer.
Family members of Sean Monterrosa, as well as other marchers, activists and friends, pose on Maine Street in Vallejo in front of a billboard featuring Sean Monterrosa in 2020. (Thomas Gase – Times-Herald file)
The decision comes 11 months after then-Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams issued Tonn a “Notice of Discipline” after a neutral, independent third-party investigation showed that Tonn “violated several department policies, including, but not exhaustive of, use of deadly force which was not objectively reasonable, failure to de-escalate the incident and failure to activate body-worn camera.”
That termination in October of 2022 came despite officer Marc Fox, testifying in a Skelly hearing, recommending that Tonn’s termination be overturned. This came a few months after an investigation conducted by an outside firm found that Tonn violated policy in the shooting of Monterrosa.
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According to Olander’s statement on behalf of Tonn, in rejecting the City’s experts, the OIR Group, the ruling explained: “Department Policy and PC 835a forbid second-guessing of an officer’s use of deadly force based upon hindsight. This means that facts unknown to the officers are not relevant in analyzing whether an officer reasonably believes there is a threat of imminent harm. Olander said that OIR relied upon several facts unknown to the officers at the time of the shooting: 1) that Monterrosa was in possession of a hammer and not a gun; and 2) that Monterrosa was shot in the back of the head.”
According to Olander the ruling contained several additional significant findings:
De-escalation was not feasible “because an officer who reasonably believes he is about to shot and killed is entitled to use deadly force at that moment.”
Despite politically motivated comments to the contrary, then-Chief Shawny Williams admitted in a Department email that Tonn “perceived a deadly threat” and that he had “the most profound appreciation for [his] hard work, dedication and courage.” That admission contradicted the Chief’s public comments and decision to terminate Tonn, despite privately acknowledging he “was justified in using deadly force.
Then-Chief Williams also violated Department policy requiring that a Critical Incident
According to the Monterrosa family and Merritt, a press conference will be held on Thursday at 11 a.m. in front of Vallejo City Hall. The family of Monterrosa requested to use the statements by Merritt as their voice at this time.
In July Vallejo declared a state of emergency over its lack of police officers. That unanimous vote gives interim Vallejo Police Chief Ta and City Manager Mike Malone the power to make unilateral decisions regarding Vallejo’s public safety. This means Ta and Malone will not have to confer with either the council or the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association before making decisions about the city’s law enforcement.