‘Ban killer kops’: Protesters swamp Vallejo City Hall over the reinstatement of officer involved in fatal shooting

Council seeks advice on how to stop return of Sean Monterrosa’s killer

Outrage over the impending reinstatement of the Vallejo police officer who killed Sean Monterrosa swept through council chambers Tuesday, with protesters blasting the city’s decision for two hours.

Signs reading “ban killer kops” were waved in the crowd of more than 120 people as the Vallejo City Council repeatedly extended the original 15-minute time limit allotted for public comments at the beginning of the meeting. Dozens of reform activists took the podium, including several family members of people killed in Vallejo police shootings, to condemn the return of Det. Jarrett Tonn, who shot Monterrosa while he was on his knees with his hands up in June 2020.

“We used to raise hell up here because we really thought that y’all could do something,” David Harrison, a cousin of Willie McCoy, who was killed by Vallejo police in 2019, told council members. “But I’m seeing now that there’s nothing you can do because the cops – you guys are terrified of cops.” You’re terrified.”

In response to a public speaker’s question, all council members raised their hands to indicate that they would personally oppose Tonn’s reinstatement. However, according to Mayor Robert McConnell and City Manager Mike Malone, they cannot.

“The last ruling was by an independent arbitrator who said, ‘you must rehire,'” McConnell said as jeers erupted around him. “We have to find a proper way to do what we want to do,” he added.

Tonn was fired by the city in October 2022 for the Monterrosa shooting. Tonn, on the other hand, appealed that decision, claiming he mistook a hammer in Monterrosa’s waistband for a gun and didn’t realize the 22-year-old was facing away from him.

Tonn was ordered back to work with back pay by an arbitrator last month. Malone said in a statement that the detective will return “as soon as practicable,” but he couldn’t give any specific timelines.

Tonn’s future with the Vallejo Police Department’s Patrol Division is unknown. If he does, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the Monterrosa family in a lawsuit against the city, has promised to hire a private security company to monitor the officer’s movements and notify residents of his presence.

‘Blood money’

Angel Ramos, Antoinette Saddler’s brother, died in 2017 after Vallejo police officer Zach Jacobsen shot him while he was fighting another man. The city of Vallejo paid $2.8 million in a settlement over the 21-year-old’s death in November 2022.

Saddler’s family has moved into a new home. Her mother is not required to work every day. But Saddler said on Tuesday that no amount of money could compensate for the pain and loss Jacobsen caused her and the people she cares about.

“I don’t mind if we move into a large new mansion. Saddler declared, “That (expletive) does not bring my brother back.” “It doesn’t matter how much money there is in the world. It’s blood money.”

The speaker demanded that the Vallejo Police Department be held more accountable for the 33 people killed by its officers since 2000. She chastised the city for taking nearly three years to implement only eight of 45 recommendations to improve law enforcement – progress so slow that the California Department of Justice is currently drafting legal documents to compel Vallejo to act faster.

“Out of the 40-plus things you were supposed to do, you only did one or two!” Saddler yelled. “Do you know what I had to install? The headstone of my brother. My brother’s casket.”

Tuesday, council members provided few direct responses to community members’ comments, which were theoretically limited to three minutes and later two minutes in length but frequently exceeded the time limit.

After much of the audience stood and applauded Merritt’s speech, McConnell responded, “On behalf of the Monterrosa family and the community standing with them, it’s clear we don’t consent to the return of Jarrett Tonn to the street.”

“You’re a constitutional scholar,” said the mayor. “You and I are both attorneys. Do you have any suggestions for how we should deal with the adverse arbitrator’s decision?”

“I appreciate you asking the question,” Merritt said. He declined to respond in a “30-second sound bite,” but did say, “I certainly offer myself and my resources, as well as an international group of people who work with cities across the country, to come up with a reasonable answer to that question.”

Diverse demands

Other speakers lobbed complaints and demands at council members ranging from better community engagement to disbanding the Vallejo Police Department and rebuilding the city’s law enforcement from the ground up.

Philip Balbuena, the civilian representative on VPD’s critical incident review board, noted that few council members have attended recent police department town halls, the most recent of which drew about 100 people on Aug. 24. He mentioned a planned meeting on Thursday about a proposed plan to have Vallejo police stop responding to automatically triggered alarm calls.

“You can stand there and not speak,” Balbuena said, “but on Thursday, all hell will break loose for (Interim Police Chief Jason) Ta and (Deputy Chief Joseph) Gomez – but you won’t be there.” And it is you who are negotiating with the (Vallejo Police Officers’ Association)! The very least you can do is support your colleagues, those you have left behind.”

Balbuena cautioned that low police morale can lead to fatigue, impatience, and, ultimately, poor decisions. He also slammed a meeting item that was originally on the agenda to discuss a potential 3% cost-of-living pay raise for City Manager Malone.

“Something needs to be done,” said Balbuena. “People need to feel safe on the streets, and that is something we must prioritize.” We won’t prioritize your or anyone else’s raise until people feel safe again.”

At the start of the meeting, McConnell announced that council members were removing Malone’s potential raise from the agenda.

Other speakers urged the city to release an investigation report into the VPD’s badge-bending scandal, in which some officers bent the tips of their badges after killing someone. Malone stated in a Monday press release that the city is unable to release this report because police personnel records are protected under California law.

Three judges have ruled in favor of the city in the case, but another legal challenge is currently underway.

Other attendees made more extreme criticisms.

The crowd erupted in cheers as speaker Tiny Garcia declared Vallejo to be “occupied Miwok and Ohlone territory.”

“It doesn’t matter what settler colonial town we talk about, because the same settler colonial government is in place, killing our sons and daughters,” Garcia explained. “And so, the bigger question that we have for you, and I hope you can answer, is, ‘When will you stop killing our people?'”

Speaker Juju Angeles spent more than a minute leading audience members in a sacred song meant to “open up all your hearts to really bring some change.” A speaker identified only as Marie C. mentioned successful efforts in Camden, New Jersey, to both dramatically transform the city’s approach to policing and significantly reduce crime rates.

“Abolish VPD,” Marie suggested. “Restart it because the culture in Vallejo is so toxic.” The police department is in a state of emergency. Because you keep killing people, you’re bankrupt.”

The remaining four and a half hours

Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz was the only official to respond immediately following the lengthy public comments. She challenged protesters to outperform her.

“When people say that you will be remembered, I hope so,” Loera-Diaz said, referring to previous comments about the current council’s legacy. “Because I’ve done everything I needed to do, and if people don’t like it, that’s on them.” Run! Run for public office! Get up here and do your best. When you guys come up here, I’ll be in the front row.”

McConnell called a recess, and the council moved on to the rest of their agenda items. The meeting ended at 1:38 a.m.

A few speakers spoke on other agenda items, including updates on plans to rebuild the Vallejo police station and Ta’s most recent efforts to recruit more officers to patrol the city. More information on these topics can be found in the Vallejo Times-Herald on Friday.

During the second public comment section near the end of the meeting, three virtual speakers brought up previous discussions about police. By the end of the evening, the in-person audience had shrunk to a single member of the general public and two members of the media.

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