THE VALLEJO COMMUNITY has been given more insight into the controversial decision to bring back a police officer who had been fired for shooting and killing a man amid George Floyd protests in 2020. 

Detective Jarrett Tonn was dismissed from the Vallejo force after he shot Sean Monterrosa, 22, of San Francisco, outside of a Walgreens store on Redwood Street during the early morning hours of June 2, 2020. Tonn is now getting his job back, plus full back pay, according to his attorney.  

Tonn prevailed in arbitration, and on Sept. 15 the Vallejo city manager released the arbitrator’s full decision.  

The finding of the arbitrator runs exactly counter to an independent investigation into the shooting carried out by law enforcement consultation company OIR Group, which found that Tonn did not act within policy when he shot Monterrosa. Then-Chief Shawny Williams used the findings from that investigation to support his decision to terminate Tonn’s employment in 2021.

The arbitrator’s finding describes a chaotic evening in Vallejo, with vandalism and graffiti, and said that the Vallejo police headquarters had to be surrounded with concrete barricades due to the unrest.  

“The Department viewed itself as ‘being under siege,’” reads the finding, adding that there had been reports of people engaging in violence against police officers.  

The Vallejo Walgreens where Sean Monterrosa, 22, was shot and killed by a Vallejo police officer. (Screen grab Google Earth)

The Walgreens where Monterrosa was shot was across town from the police station. Tonn and two other officers were responding to alleged reports of looting at the store in an unmarked pickup truck. Body camera footage shows Tonn, who is seated in the backseat of the vehicle, stick an AR-15-style assault rifle in between the two officers and fire five times through the windshield at Monterrosa as the police vehicle approached the store.

Sean Monterrosa with the family pitbull/boxer mix, Gucci. (Photo courtesy Monterrosa family)

Monterrosa died a short time later. 

The arbitrator’s report found that Tonn mistakenly believed that Monterrosa was in the process of drawing a firearm, and though the outside investigation of the shooting carried out by the OIR Group determined that Tonn was not acting within department policy.  

According to one officer’s testimony during the arbitration hearing, Monterrosa was the last of a crew of people to try to run away from Walgreens, get in their cars and flee. The officer, whose name has been redacted, said he saw Monterrosa running with “what looked to be a Glock pistol with a high-cap magazine protruding from his sweatshirt.”  

Monterrosa was about to get into a car when he abruptly turned around and faced the officers, which they didn’t perceive as him surrendering, but as an “immediate threat.”  

A second unnamed officer said Monterrosa turned and went down on one knee, but that he looked like he had a firearm in his hand.  

Williams, the former chief, has said that his finding determined that Monterrosa had been down on at least one knee with his arms raised when he was fatally shot. Williams also noted that Monterrosa had been shot in the back of his head, further lending to the idea that he had not been a threat.  

All of the officers interviewed described Tonn firing his gun suddenly with no warning. 

“[This is] more evidence of a tactically defective approach in which an accurate threat assessment could not be made … Leading to a premature decision to shoot when all that was involved was a property crime.”  

OIR Group report

The OIR Group also found that the officers behaved “recklessly,” that Monterrosa was not a threat at the time of his shooting, that all three officers gave different stories, and that Tonn’s statement immediately afterwards showed uncertainty about whether he actually saw a gun.  

“[This is] more evidence of a tactically defective approach in which an accurate threat assessment could not be made,” reads the OIR Group report. “Leading to a premature decision to shoot when all that was involved was a property crime.”  

OIR Group also found that the officers failed to follow department de-escalation policies and did not activate body-worn cameras when they should have been activated.  

Tonn’s testimony in the arbitration revealed that he had been worried for a week as things got progressively worse in Vallejo surrounding the George Floyd events. Tonn said he was concerned that the department would be “overrun” and there was talk about using “deadly force” if that should happen. 

Tonn said he and his co-officers were in SWAT gear and in a pickup truck when they responded to looting at the Walgreens. Their plan was to corner the looters, but Tonn said he heard that Monterrosa was armed and then several things went through his head. 

Body cam footage shows Vallejo police officers at the scene of the officer-involved fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa. (Photo courtesy of Vallejo Police Department)

At first, he tried to open the door of the truck, but there were child locks on it. He then scooted to the middle of the back seat with his “number one thought” being to make sure that whoever had the gun did not shoot at them. They considered moving the truck, but they didn’t want to leave another officer who was outside uncovered. Tonn reportedly said he’d rather “be killed than leave a team member behind.” 

Tonn said he saw Monterrosa running in a way that made him think he had a gun in his waistband and that he had seen that certain ‘gait’ before when someone was armed.  

Tonn at first seemed surprised that Monterrosa spun around instead of fleeing and he wondered why he went down on one knee, but then he saw the hammer handle, which he thought was the butt of a gun.  

“Every normal person or suspect knows that the police are aware that handguns are kept in a waistband,” said Tonn in his testimony. “And they know, if I move my hands toward my waist, the police are going to think I’m going for a gun.” 

Tonn said he never yelled “gun!” because he needed to respond with deadly force to keep them from being shot. He then fired five rounds in 1.5 seconds through the windshield. Tonn admitted that he did not give any commands prior to killing Monterrosa.  

Once he realized the suspect had a hammer and not a gun, he told the arbitrator that he was “in absolute disbelief” and had“It’s going down now, you are about to be shot” running through his head before he fired his gun. Once he realized what he had done, he said out loud, ‘I don’t [f-ing] need this.’”

Report based on ‘hindsight’

In all, the arbitration investigation found that the OIR Group’s report, the chief’s position and even the city of Vallejo’s position on Tonn’s dismissal did not take into account the “totality of circumstances” involved and the importance of Tonn’s perceptions of what was happening, not what was actually happening. 

The arbitrator found that Monterrosa had spun and went into what could have been a “kneeling, shooting” position.  

Though the OIR Group found that since Monterrosa was not armed, Tonn was wrong in shooting him, the arbitrator said this opinion was based on hindsight, not the facts as they were unraveling. They also allege that de-escalation is only supposed to be used with suspects in mental health crisis.

Attorney Lee Merritt (center), representing the Monterrosa family, joins the parents of Sean Monterrosa at a press conference outside Vallejo City Hall in Vallejo, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

The news of Tonn’s return to the force has not gone over well with some residents, many of which showed up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting and said as much.  

Lee Merritt, attorney for the Monterrosa family in their civil lawsuit against the city and police department, has pledged to hire private security to shadow Tonn while he works, to protect the community.  

On Tuesday, Merritt agreed to meet with Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell to discuss ways to get around the arbitrator’s decision, which McConnell, an attorney himself, doesn’t see as being a legal option.  

Monterrosa’s death caused national outcry and the California Department of Justice opened an investigation into the shooting in May 2021. Monterrosa’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Tonn that has a jury trial scheduled for January 2025.   

Vallejo police have so far been mum on Tonn’s return, but last week, Vallejo City Manager Mike Malone said the arbitrator told the city that Tonn should return “as soon as practicable” and that the city and the Police Department are making preparations for his reinstatement. 

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.