For Sean Monterrosa’s family, the feeling was bittersweet when one of the most followed activists and journalists—Shaun King, who has written nearly 1,500 articles on racial injustice and police brutality—sent out a petition to action demanding justice for Monterrosa.
The Monterrosa family reached out to King for help after Sean was killed June 2 at the hands of the Vallejo Police.
King sent out the Action Pac email on June 10 asking those on the mailing list to be one of the 200,000 signatures, “demanding that the Vallejo Police Department fire Officer Jarrett Tonn and charge him with the murder of Sean Monterrosa.”
The Vallejo Police Department has not confirmed that Tonn is in fact the officer who shot Monterrosa, but an anonymous source confirmed to the SF Chronicle that Tonn was the shooter. Body camera footage of the fatal shooting that night is also yet to be released.
“My brother was already on his knees surrendering, you know, [posing] no threat,” said Sean’s older sister Michelle.
The police have only given a brief statement with the outline of events of that night. According to the statement, Vallejo police were responding to the looting of a Walgreens when they saw Monterrosa kneeling with what turned out to be a 15-inch hammer in his waistband. The officer shot Monterrosa through the windshield of his patrol car, allegedly believing that the hammer was a gun. The statement added “that the criminal and administrative investigations into this matter are ongoing.”
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced an In Memoriam on June 9 recognizing Sean’s life and legacy. She also introduced a resolution calling on Vallejo to release police body camera footage “in order to bring greater transparency in this case and help Sean’s family obtain justice.”
Coverage of Monterrosa’s death will continue to cast him in different lights, but he was more than what police or any platform makes him out to be based on the last moments of his life.
Monterrosa had just turned 22 on April 24 and was ready to take on the world with dreams of success, which in turn meant his family’s success as well.
His sisters Michelle, 24, and Ashley, 20, Monterrosa also expressed how driven he began the year. He completed a rigorous six month course at Job Train in carpentry and construction, where he graduated at the top of his class. Then went on to work at Cody Brock Commercial Builders, a construction company where he was employed for a brief moment due to the pandemic.
“He had such a thirst to be successful,” said younger sister Ashley.
Monterrosa had moved back home as quarantine hit and was once again in the small apartment he had shared with his family growing up in San Francisco. This cozy and close quarter home for the quarantine period allowed him to bond with his sisters over cooking.
The Monterrosa sisters giggle as they remember how in trying to help clean up, he put dishwashing soap on the cast iron skillet.
“The moment he put soap on it I was like, ‘Sean why did you do that you ruined my pan!’” remembered his older sister Michelle, laughing softly.
Ashley recalled jumping in to break it up and giggles as she said that it was just like when they were kids.
When they were kids growing up in Bernal Heights in San Francisco, Monterrosa wanted to play the wise all knowing older brother—even though he was the middle child. In moments of sibling conflict,Ashely would jump in, not because things would escalate but because that was her role.
“We have always been more like triplets just because we are divided by two years,” his sisters said.
The triplets wouldn’t spend much time together after April because like always, Monterrosa was thinking of success and what his next move would be. When he was 13, he hustled hot dogs outside clubs and on any street corner he could.
“He was the hot dog guy. Bacon wrapped hot dogs, that was his first job,” said Ashley.
This led to more than a couple citations from officers, but that never kept him from going back to make money. He wanted to help at home in any way he could financially. He dreamt of buying his family a home one day.
By the time he was 17, he found himself being referred to Life Works, a program at Horizons Unlimited based in the Mission after officers cited him again for selling hot dogs without a permit.
“I just feel like the police and people keep messing with me and I just know I am meant for something more. I hope I can find that here,” Nancy Abdul-Shakur, Employment & Prevention Program Director at Horizons Unlimited, remembered Monterrosa telling her during the interview process of his application.
Within Horizons, Monterrosa found work without having to be harassed on the streets and received help with his studies, even though his grades were not suffering.
He worked at the DJ Project under Crystal Mendoza, who was the director at the time. Maricar Bamba, Academic Research Specialist at Horizons during 2104-2015, remembered Monterrosa attending tutoring sessions and always coming back in during his free time.
Sean’s mentors described him as being hardworking, dependable, shy, and always having this little smirk that was just so him. “Tiernudo, very sweet energy,” Mendoza said she felt when she first met him.
Bamba remembered being approached by Monterrosa and asking her if they could talk. In her office, he broke down in tears.
“I had never seen him cry,” said Bamba.
Between tears, Monterrosa shared that his friend had been killed. In that moment, Bamba said she realised that he was letting go and grieving his friend. In her advice to him, Bamba said that for this reason, it is important to make good decisions.
Bamba’s voice stops during the interview, and sighs the word ‘God’ before saying, “But not even that, because Sean did make the right decision. That’s why I think that makes this [his] death so hard.”
Bamba is referring to the fact that Monterrosa was on his knees with his hands up when the officer shot at him.
Prior to his death Monterrosa had reached out to family to sign the petition for George Floyd. According to his sisters he wanted to impact change and having his family sign this petition was one way he sought to do that.
Now, Monterrosa’s death continues to spark the change he wanted to see from others. Local San Francican Candy Contreras, 22, an immigrant from Mexico said she was walking down the Mission on June 5 where she saw a crowd gathered for Monterrosa.
“Wow, another person got shot by the police,” said Contreras as she heard Monterrosa’s story.
Contreras has since painted a mural for Monterrosa in efforts to spark questions about the system and how it functions in failing so many Black and Brown people. She is scared at times because she is an immigrant and knows the consequences may mean going back to Mexico. Contreras said if she were deported based on her protesting or fighting for what is right, then it would be worth it even though it is not a consequence she seeks.
“It could’ve been you,” posted Contreras on Instagram under a picture of the Monterrosa mural.
Bay Area civil rights attorney John L. Burris—who has represented many victims of police violence—is representing the Monterrosa family.