Officials seek criminal investigation after key evidence in fatal Calif. OIS destroyed
City officials said the windshield that an officer shot through was discarded and the unmarked vehicle was placed back into service
By Lauren Hernández and Alejandro Serrano
San Francisco Chronicle
VALLEJO, Calif. — Vallejo city officials said Wednesday that a key piece of evidence in a high-profile fatal police shooting — the windshield of the police vehicle the officer shot through — was destroyed, and said they have asked the FBI or another agency to take over the criminal investigation of the shooting.
The Chronicle earlier reported that Vallejo police had discarded the windshield and returned into service the unmarked police pickup truck involved in the shooting.
Last week, Vallejo police released body camera footage showing one of its police officers firing from the back seat of the pickup truck, which had just pulled into a Walgreens parking lot after reports of people taking merchandise from the store on June 2. The shooting killed 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa on a night when demonstrations across the Bay Area and beyond were calling for an end to police brutality and killings of Black people and other people of color.
The officer — whose name has not been officially released — fired five rounds through the windshield, one of which struck Monterrosa. The officer was later heard on body cam footage asking other officers, “What did he point at us?” before saying, “Hey, he pointed a gun at us.”
Inside Monterrosa’s sweatshirt was a hammer, which police said the officer mistook for a firearm.
Vallejo city officials are seeking a criminal investigation into the destruction of evidence, said a statement from the city manager’s office Wednesday night. Officials said the windshield was destroyed and the unmarked vehicle placed back into service “without prior consultation with the police chief or city attorney’s office.”
“An employee has been placed on administrative leave while the city retains an outside investigator to conduct the administrative investigation into the destruction of evidence,” Vallejo officials said in the statement. The unidentified employee works for the police department, the city confirmed.
City officials said they are asking that the windshield’s destruction be included as part of a criminal investigation into the shooting, which they have asked the Solano County district attorney’s office or Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office to conduct.
“Additionally, the city is in contact with the FBI. The request is for one of these entities to conduct the criminal investigation,” city officials said.
Two days after Monterrosa’s death, Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams requested an independent review, but Becerra declined to have the state Department of Justice get involved. On July 2, Abrams recused her office from reviewing the Monterrosa shooting.
Melissa Nold, one of the attorneys representing Monterrosa’s family along with John Burris, told The Chronicle Tuesday that after the footage was released last week, she contacted the Vallejo city attorney’s office to verify that police preserved the pickup truck for evidence. She said the city attorney’s office returned her inquiry and said police repaired the truck and “didn’t preserve” the windshield.
“You don’t have to be an expert, or a police officer, or a crime scene analyst, to know that a bullet-ridden windshield is evidence. So, to have that discarded, it reeks of what either has to be corruption or somebody being completely inept, and I don’t know which is worse,” Nold told The Chronicle. “This is evidence in a homicide case. It should have been preserved in whole, but at the very bare, bare minimum, certainly the windshield itself.”
Tony Brass, who served as a prosecutor in the San Francisco district attorney’s office for nearly a decade over two stints, in addition to working in the United States attorney’s office, said evidence should never be destroyed in any case.
If he were the defense attorney in the Monterrosa case, Brass said, he would want to see the windshield itself, and not just photographs.
“This is a crucial piece of evidence that should have been preserved and its chain of custody should have been treated with the utmost care,” Brass said. “Whatever evidence was part of it is now gone forever if it’s not located.”
Nold said the windshield was especially important evidence because the body camera footage does not show what Monterrosa was doing just prior to the shooting. Police said that a Walgreens security camera that could have captured footage of the shooting was disabled by people taking merchandise from the store.
The windshield, Nold said, is imperative for experts to accurately re-create the shooting. “You can’t do trajectory analysis on a photo,” she said.
Nold said it was “disheartening” to learn police allowed the windshield to be discarded, “because it’s taken away from the Monterrosa family’s ability to put the puzzle pieces together themselves. It robs the family of the ability to do the type of testing necessary to confirm whether what the officer is saying actually happened.”
Police Chief Shawny Williams has amended the Police Department’s original description of the moments leading up to the shooting.
Williams initially said Monterrosa was on his knees and raising his arms, “revealing what appeared to be the butt of a handgun,” when the officer fired five rounds through the windshield.
Last week, Williams said Monterrosa was “turning towards the officers in a crouching down, half-kneeling position, as if in preparation to shoot.”
Williams said a detective at the scene saw Monterrosa “move his hands toward his waist area, and grab what appeared to be the butt of a handgun.” The chief told The Chronicle that details about what led to the shooting changed because the previous “narrative” was not accurate.
The windshield’s disposal comes less than two weeks after Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams announced she is recusing her office from reviewing Monterrosa’s killing by police and the police killing of Willie McCoy, who fell asleep behind the wheel while in the drive-through of a Taco Bell restaurant in February 2019.
Vallejo police officers fired 55 rounds toward him in a matter of seconds after police said McCoy roused from sleep and reached for a gun in his lap.
Chronicle staff writer Otis R. Taylor Jr. contributed to this report.
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