New CA Bill Would Allow Compensation for Victims of Police Violence

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
In 2020, a Vallejo police officer shot and killed Sean Monterrosa, mistakenly believing he had a gun. His family awaits a decision by the California Attorney General on whether to charge the officer, who has since been fired. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Monterrosa Family

Criminal justice reform groups are rallying behind a new bill that would make it easier for people hurt in encounters with police to get support from the California Victim Compensation Board.

Right now, most claims – aside from domestic violence or sexual assault – require that the person be identified as a victim in a police report.

Michelle Monterrosa’s brother Sean died at the hands of Vallejo Police in 2020. The officer was fired but never charged.

Monterrosa said the bill would help families like hers cope.

“And unfortunately,” said Monterrosa, “because our loved ones were killed the way they were, you know, we’re not considered victims, they are not considered as victims. So, therefore, we’re continuing the cycles of trauma and harm. The whole household is also a victim, you know – we’re the ones who deal with the loss every day.”

The bill would exclude cases in which the person inflicted “great bodily injury” in a law enforcement encounter before being killed.

Families or survivors would be able to use evidence other than a police report to access the program, which provides assistance with burial costs, medical bills and counseling. The victim would be eligible regardless of whether the officer is arrested or convicted.

Cristine Soto DeBerry, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Prosecutors Alliance, oversaw a similar program in San Francisco and said the system needs to be more flexible and compassionate.

“We see families having to turn to GoFundMe pages and car washes to try and cover the cost of burying their loved one after an incident like this,” said Soto DeBerry. “And that, to us, seems inhumane and unnecessary.”

The California District Attorneys Association opposed a similar bill in last year’s legislative session, arguing the law would allow compensation to perpetrators of crimes.

Soto DeBerry argued that the outreach is a win-win.

“Supporting families through this process is a smart public safety strategy,” said Soto DeBerry, “and one that strengthens legitimacy rather than undermining it.”

Senate Bill 838 is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.

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