Deputy Who Shot Andy Lopez Said to Act Erratically, Heroically
Update, 5:30 p.m. KPIX also reported yesterday on the traffic stop by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus and Jeff Westbrook of Santa Rosa. Westbrook has said that Gelhaus pulled his gun on him twice during the encounter. KPIX’s story added that “Westbrook later learned a car matching his was part of a ‘be on the lookout’ call.”
In related news, the parents of 13-year-old Andy Lopez will sue Gelhaus and Sonoma County in the death of their son. The federal civil rights lawsuit will be filed on Monday at the Federal District Court in San Francisco. The lawsuit will allege that the shooting of Andy was unconstitutional in that it violated the Fourth Amendment’s limits on police authority.
The attorney for the family also filed three wrongful death claims against Sonoma County earlier week.
The San Francisco Chronicle and the Press Democrat are reporting news about the Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez after mistaking his toy AK-47 for the real thing: A motorist stopped by Deputy Erick Gelhaus in August says Gelhaus pulled his gun on him twice during the encounter.
Jeff Westbrook of Santa Rosa said Gelhaus pulled him over Aug. 21 on Hwy. 101 in Cotati for failing to signal a lane change in his BMW.
From the Press Democrat:
Gelhaus walked up to the passenger door, slipping on the steep hill. Westbrook asked the deputy if he should make more room on the roadside for him and when he put his BMW into neutral, Gelhaus pulled out his gun, according to Westbrook.
“He’s screaming and he’s ballistic — ‘Turn off your vehicle’ — I go, ‘Sir, it is off,’” Westbrook said. “He jumped to an extreme situation in no time at all.”
Westbrook said that moments later he faced Gelhaus’ gun again outside the car when Gelhaus asked if he had any weapons and Westbrook pulled up his shirt to show he had none.
Acording to the Chronicle, Westbrook was so upset with Gelhaus’ behavior that at one point he asked him, “Sir, is there something wrong with you?” He also reported the incident to Gelhaus’ supervisor and had hoped to speak to Gelhaus himself when the Lopez shooting put the deputy on leave.
“I felt like I was watching somebody I needed to help,” said Westbrook, 57, a program manager at an information technology company, to the Chronicle. “This was not right. He did not manage this correctly.”
Gelhaus is on routine paid leave after the Oct. 22 shooting of eighth-grader Andy Lopez Cruz, who was walking with a replica AK-47 pellet gun near his home just outside Santa Rosa. His attorney declined Thursday to comment on Westbrook’s allegations, saying that Gelhaus is very “emotional” over the loss of life and pain felt by the Lopez family.
But others have begun stepping forward to defend Gelhaus’ actions. A longtime local paramedic says Gelhaus saved his life eight years ago. Former Sonoma Life Support paramedic Aram Bronston, 43, of Santa Rosa wrote a letter to the editor published Thursday in The Press Democrat that recounted the time Bronston was struggling on the shoulder of Highway 101 in south Santa Rosa with a woman who was distraught over her brother’s death and became “verbally and physically abusive.”
The letter says, in part:
I was being attacked by a mentally unstable patient and was being steadily forced backward into traffic. Gelhaus stepped in and subdued the patient, using only the amount of force necessary. He was able to control the situation without adding any additional injuries to the patient.
Despite being hit, kicked and almost bitten by the person, he used restraint and calm good judgment.
Gelhaus, Bronston told the Press Democrat, saved his life when he “grabbed me by my shirt — with cars literally two inches from hitting me — and pulled me to safety.”