Family members of Sean Monterrosa and Erik Salgado – two Latino men shot to death in separate incidents by law enforcement in the Bay Area last month – gathered on Wednesday on the steps of the California’s state capitol to demand answers and accountability.
Monterrosa, 22, was killed on 2 June when Vallejo police responded to reports of alleged looting, and an officer in an unmarked vehicle fired five bullets at him through the vehicle’s windshield. Monterrosa was unarmed, on his knees with his hands up.
“We’re demanding footage, we’re demanding officers’ names. We don’t just want prosecution. We want a conviction. They know they murdered my brother,” said Sean’s sister Michelle Monterrosa.
Just four days after Monterrosa was killed, California highway patrol (CHP) officers pursuing a vehicle they suspected had been stolen opened fire on the car, killing the driver, 23-year-old Erik Salgado, and injuring his pregnant girlfriend, Brianna Colombo. Colombo survived, but the baby did not, family members said.
Salgado’s sister, Amanda Majail-Blanco, said she believes police have focused on the vehicle, and whether it was stolen, in order to distract from the killing.
“I feel like they’re trying to paint him as this person, this criminal, in order to justify the fact they murdered him. They’re trying to erase him. And I’m afraid it’s going to become the story people tell,” Majail-Blanco.
“My brother was a product of his environment. He had his past, like we all do, but he was a good dad, he was a hard worker, and he was robbed of the opportunity to become a better man,” she added.
Though CHP officers fired the shots that killed Salgado, the Oakland police department has said it is conducting a criminal investigation while the county’s district attorney investigates the use of deadly force.
“This is about as bad a shooting as you could see,” said John Burris, a civil rights attorney who is representing the families of Salgado and Monterrosa.
“We have different officers firing into the car and shooting Salgado more than 40 times. His body was just riddled with bullets, both in the front and back. A young lady in the passenger seat was shot – all while investigating a stolen car. A stolen car in no way justifies the use of deadly force,” Burris said.
CHP said that officers fired into the car after Salgado attempted to “ram” patrol cars to escape a road block, but Burris said he had uncovered evidence that contradicts the official police narrative.
Burris said that law enforcement collected surveillance footage from nearby houses that could clarify what happened in the final minutes of Salgado’s life, but that police so far have not released reports, photographs or footage they have requested.
Meantime, California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, declined last week to investigate Monterrosa’s shooting, which had been requested by the district attorney in Solano county, where the shooting took place. Becerra said the Solano county DA had not proven she was incapable of investigating the case on her own.
“Absent a conflict of interest, an abuse of discretion or other exceptional circumstances, the Department of Justice does not assume responsibility for local investigations or prosecutions typically handled by local authorities,” Becerra’s office said in a statement.
Three days prior, Becerra had announced plans to “review and reform” the Vallejo police department, whose officers have killed 19 people since 2010, one of the highest rates in the state.
The officer who shot Monterrosa, Detective Jarrett Tonn, has been involved in four shootings in five years and is one of 14 Vallejo policemen whom residents and activists call the “Fatal 14” – officers who have repeatedly shot and killed citizens and escaped consequences.
Michelle Monterrosa, Sean’s sister, said the attorney general’s decision not to investigate, coupled with elected officials’ silence on the shootings, speak to a lack of political will when it comes to investigating the killing of black and brown people.
“Becerra can’t just choose when he wants to be Latino and stand up for black and brown people,” said Monterrosa.