A 22-year-old man who surrendered to police was shot dead by an officer in the San Francisco area on Tuesday, amid reports of looting at the store where the incident occurred.
Sean Monterrosa, of Vallejo, died in hospital after police shot him five times from inside their vehicle, officials say.
“There was no reason for them to kill my brother like that,” his sister, Ashley Monterrosa, told ABC 7 News, amid growing outcry over the death. “They executed him.”
The incident happened outside a Walgreens after midnight on Tuesday in Vallejo, Calif. Officials say the officers were investigating a report of looting inside the store. They showed up to see about a dozen people getting in a vehicle and leaving, and Monterrosa still outside the pharmacy.
Monterossa appeared to run toward the vehicle then suddenly stopped, dropped to his knees and raised his hands above his waist, revealing a hammer sticking out of his pants, police said.
An officer mistook the hammer for the butt of a gun and shot him because he “perceived a threat,” said Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams. The unidentified officer has 18 years of experience on the force and has been put on leave pending an investigation.
“The intent was to stop the looting and to arrest any perpetrators if necessary,” Williams said at a news conference on Wednesday.
“It’s always a tragedy anytime an officer has to use force,” he added. “My condolences to his family. It is a difficult thing to happen, I understand that.”
One of the fleeing vehicles rammed a police car and triggered a wild chase, Williams said.
The shooting of Monterrosa has provoked fierce criticism of police in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the first confirmed police killing related to a looting incident since the George Floyd protests broke out, The Associated Press reports.
Another of the victim’s sisters, Michelle Monterrosa, has said that her brother was “murdered” by police.
“My brother was kneeling and surrendering, yet you shot my brother from your vehicle through your windshield,” she said of the officer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. “How much more cowardly can you be?”
Monterrosa’s family says he was an avid reader who loved working with youth groups such as the Boys & Girls Club and Horizons Unlimited. His last message to them was a group text urging them to sign a petition calling for justice for George Floyd.
“These officers are going to continue to take people like my brother out, people like George Floyd and it hurts and it hurts,” Michelle Monterrosa said.
John Burris, an attorney for the family, said it’s appalling that an officer would shoot someone who was surrendering.
“This young man was shot multiple times while he was on his knees and appeared to be trying to surrender,” he said. Burris added that he understands it was a tense situation, “but one has to maintain control, and you don’t get to arbitrarily shoot someone in a panic, just because the situation is excitable.”
Some officials in California are preparing to ease or end curfews around the protests after several days of largely peaceful demonstrations.
Chief Williams’ press conference on Wednesday was cut short by an angry crowd that denounced the killing of another person of colour — in this case, a Latino — at the hands of police, so soon after the death of George Floyd. Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer put a knee on his neck for several minutes.
Vallejo police officers have been involved in 16 deaths since 2011, NBC News reports.
The community remains particularly upset with police over the death of Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old Black rapper who was shot dead by police at a Taco Bell drive-thru last year. McCoy was sleeping in his car when six officers woke him up. He was startled awake, and the officers responded by firing 55 shots at his vehicle within 3.5 seconds, a report found.
Vallejo Police have not provided evidence that Monterrosa was actually looting the Walgreens.
Chief Williams says the department must release bodycam footage of the incident within 45 days, although he expects that footage to emerge even sooner.
— With files from The Associated Press