“Sean died for a bigger cause”: Remembering Sean Monterrosa

Interview with Michelle and Ashley Monterrosa

 

Twenty-two year-old San Francisco resident Sean Monterrosa was unarmed and kneeling with his hands raised when Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn fatally shot him through the windshield of a moving police vehicle in a Walgreens parking lot during the early morning hours of June 2nd.

The family couldn’t get any answers from the police that night. Instead, it took a day and a half for the police department to admit an officer had killed someone, and the police union filed a temporary restraining order to prevent the release of the names of officers involved. Later it was discovered that vital evidence, the windshield from the police car, had been destroyed, prompting an investigation by the California Department of Justice.

Sean was shot less than an hour from when he sent his last text message to his sisters. Vallejo Police Officer Jarrett Tonn has been involved in multiple shootings in recent years. The Vallejo Police Department is currently under investigation for the alleged practice of bending their badges to commemorate fatal shootings, first reported by Open Vallejo. The Vallejo Police Department is the third most murderous police department in California.

The following is an edited excerpt from a longer interview with Michelle and Ashley Monterrosa, Sean’s sisters:

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MM: I’m Michelle Monterrosa. I’m Sean Monterrosa’s oldest sibling.

AM: I’m Ashley Monterrosa, and I’m Sean’s baby sister.

MM: And we shared a bedroom with Sean. So no matter what, we were always very close. So we, even though we’re all two years apart –

AM: It felt like triplets.

MM: Yeah. And my little sister, Ashley here, she’s lived through Sean and I, you know, on what to do and not to do.

AM: I feel like an old lady because I’ve lived through them that I know like, okay, I know what not to do. And I feel like I’ve lived so much through them. You know, for me being the younger sister, I was Robin and Sean was Batman. Like I was always with him. He was always on the driver’s seat. And I was always on the passenger seat. And we were just always together. So, you know, there’s nothing we won’t do for Sean. And there’s nothing I won’t do for Michelle, and vice versa.

Photo: Sean Monterrosa (center) with his parents Neftali and Laura

MM: You can ask all his teachers, And a lot of teachers say we’re not supposed to favor students. But all his teachers said that he was one person that shed such light. There was a light from him that…  It’s one face you can never forget.  He read 50 books within one semester. It’s hard enough to get kids in high school to even want to read one or two, right? But Sean kept telling her, I need more books, I need more books. Cause he was so… My dad reads and I think he –

AM: He was hungry for knowledge. Always.

MM: I remember his main books that we have at home was The 48 Laws of Power, the Malcolm X autobiography, Assata Shakur, you know, just literature related to social justice. He was always about empowering himself and empowering the people, but also educating himself on history that we’re not taught. He always spoke for the voiceless.

AM: And Sean would always take off his shirt to give to the next person and give his very last dime to help the other person.

MM: And I do believe my brother came to this lifetime to fight. You know, his life was a fight every day. You know, being a young Latino man, you already have all adversities against you.

AM: Yeah.

MM: He was an awesome person. We got a text message from him at 11:49 for us to sign a petition –

AM: On June 1st.

MM: On June 1st, to get George Floyd justice. And we both signed it. So after that, we didn’t think of anything. We were like, okay, he didn’t respond, let’s go to bed, right? I’m already asleep. And then this girl my brother had just met and started kind of talking to calls us saying Sean’s dead, Sean’s dead, hysterically crying. And after that call, I went and instantly got on my knees and prayed in the kitchen. My parents are asleep and they’re freaking out, what’s going on? And this is while we have curfew in place.

AM: We weren’t allowed to go out after 8PM.

MM: And I said, forget the rules. It’s Sean. I got to go figure out what’s going on. So she had mentioned that it was Vallejo. And me and Ashley were like Vallejo, what are they doing in Vallejo?

AM: And luckily we all shared, all three of us shared our locations with each other. So we thought something had gone wrong.

MM: So we go over there. Me and Ashley however, the whole time we were driving out there, the whole time, we were sick. I’ve never felt so sick. And I do truly believe that you’re connected to your loved ones. You know, you instantly feel when something’s not right. And my stomach was upset. I wanted to throw up the whole night.

AM: Yeah, the entire drive to Vallejo, even before getting on the Bay Bridge, Michelle wanted to throw up. And for me, I had really strong stomach pains, like really bad.

MM: And we’ve never felt like that. And I truly believe maybe it was his spirit letting us know.

AM: And just the nerves overall cause we didn’t know what we were going to encounter once we got there.

MM: So we didn’t get many answers there. We knew that the police murdered Sean. We didn’t know how. We just knew that –

AM: It had happened.

MM: It had happened. But we all know at the end of the day, my brother wasn’t over there looking to go shoot a cop or anything, you know.

AM: He didn’t even have a gun at the end of the day

MM: And you know, nothing, nothing in this world will make sense to why Jarrett Tonn did what he did.

AM: He was shot in the neck and out the head. They flipped him over and handcuffed him and kept my brother in handcuffs until the paramedics came.

MM: And it just goes to show how fearful these cops are when unarmed Black and brown men are, you know –

AM: Even dead, you’re still scared of them.

MM: You’re so scared of them. You still have to handcuff and knowing that you already have… That entry wound, we all know it. There’s no really survival chances, you know. And that’s something that still hurts. They didn’t give him a chance.

AM: The car didn’t even stop. Jarrett Tonn was in the backseat. There was no reason for him to quote, unquote, fear for his life.

“At the end of the day, Jarrett Tonn cannot be the executioner, cannot be the judge to take my brother’s life. Whatever my brother was doing, it’s not punishable by death. And it just hurts.” – Michelle Monterrosa

MM: At the end of the day, Jarrett Tonn cannot be the executioner, cannot be the judge to take my brother’s life. Whatever my brother was doing, it’s not punishable by death. And it just hurts. But I promise, I promise to never stop fighting for Sean and the other voiceless in Vallejo.

AM: You know, Sean’s a martyr now. And martyrs never die. And, you know, Sean died for a bigger cause.

MM: And it just goes to show at the end of the day that my brother’s name will not die in vain. And I feel like my brother, with his last text message, it was a message to us to continue to fight.

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This story is part of the series TAKEN FROM US: Remembering lives lost to police violence.

This piece was reported and recorded by Chris Lee and edited and produced by Lucy Kang.

First aired on UpFront on September 17, 2020.

 

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