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Deputy Who Shot Andy Lopez Said to Act Erratically, Heroically

| November 1, 2013
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Marchers at the rally protesting the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez today in Santa Rosa. (Rachel Dornhelm / KQED)

Marchers at the rally protesting the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez earlier this week in Santa Rosa. (Rachel Dornhelm / KQED)

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.

Original post:

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.”

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  • bgal4

    Disturbing stuff? huh?

    Here we have a LEO who has never been in the news over 20 years of service.What is disturbing is how the media is compliant in speculation and innuendo with no evidence of wrong doing rather than provide responsible and CRITICAL information to parents about the hazards and lethal errors regarding replica firearms. You could do a serious story about the laws pertaining to minors access and the fact that who ever lent the weapon violated the law. Parents must approve a minor using, borrowing or being in possession of a replica, the laws are designed for parent supervision of such activities. Andy Lopez should have been in school at 3pm, and if he was on his way home, he violated CA Ed code and Penal code by carrying the weapon in public.

    • hubristick

      Schools get out before 3pm.

      • bgal4

        Schools? are you speaking specifically or generally, because you are wrong if you are speaking generally.

        Further more, the negligence in this case was on the part of the parent and Andy himself. High risk behavior, such as violating the law regarding the brandishing of a replica firearm can end in tragedy. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, until parents and kids take full responsibility for their actions.

        • Lowi

          Ur such a fagg I wish ur kid got shot by a cop…. Quit trying to find excuses the facts are there

          • John gonzales

            Somebody from the Feds needs to come to Santa Rosa and regulate the rough ,bully,trigger happy officers..that think they’re god wen they got their uniforms…..seems like the officer that shot andy was itching to shoot….he didn’t even give the other officer a chance to step out of the vehicle

          • bgal4

            what a horrible person you are

          • tone

            I think a lot of the reactions you’re getting are in response to you placing 100% of the responsibility of this tragedy on the child and his family. Being a parent, you have to be aware of the fact that children act like children and that there is no parent on earth capable of keeping a child in line 100% of the time. You seem to make a lot of assumptions that sound prejudice and make it easy to respond in a defensive manner which doesn’t help anyone or fix anything. You really dound like none of the responsibility of this terrible loss, belongs to the trained professional civil servant who held the responsibility of access to a firearm for protection of self and city. You’re basically saying that his job title negates any of the responsibility associated with carrying a firearm in a world full of irresponsible CHILDREN who at any given moment may or may not be under the direct supervision of a parent or other civil servant and who also may or may not be acting like a CHILD. The truth in your arguments are easily ignored in light of your seeming blind shield of protection you seem to think a weapon yielding civil servant should have. That seems crazy to me. The responsibility of tjis tragedy is shared and no one should be excused. No One at all. Especially not the shooter. In My Humble opinion.

          • bgal4

            I have spent the last 20 years of school and neighborhood safety implementations of reforms, my results speak volumes.

            The deputy did absolutley nothing wrong, in fact, he was extremely competent. He would have been a hero is the assault rifle was real.

            btw I am not looking for validation, I am looking for results.

            This 13 year old 6 ft tall young man made 2 fatal errors which cost him his life.

            We have not been spared tragedies, 2 of the young people who grew up in this house have been murdered in the last 3 years, both made fatal errors. They were decent kids, too trusting though and on the margin of drug culture. I have seen numerous shooting and deaths in my hood, which used to be controlled by gangsters. We got rid of all the primary properties which supported criminal activity and now for 4 summers have only a handful of shootings. As the chair of a neighborhood organization I lead the strategy in this very racially diverse area to reduce gang violence. I do not suffer fools or make excuses for coddling criminals.

            Look, over 20 years ago I was back talking a Highway partol cop who pulled me over, my 4 year old son said, shut up mom, the cop will arrest or shoot you.

            Lopez was kicked out of school and sent to an opportunity program, on the day of his death he was sent home for discipline matters, the kids LIKELY had a chip on his shoulder and was not complying with order. Most suspects with a weapon who are not planning on complying run, those that turn shoot. The cop followed decades of pattern recognition training, which is reasonable considering the threat. It is illegal to brandish a replica in public.

            Take a look at the south California schools district parent handbooks, many include not just the Ed code regarding violation for possession or replica weapons but they include the Penal Code sections for the stated purpose of educating parents.

            Bottom line, I do not need you to explain the imbalanced reactions of those shocked that a 13 year might die from engaging in high risk behavior, I have seen too much already and am fully aware that the majority of folks prefer hand wringing and righteous indignation over serious assessment of the harsh reality facing youth today.

          • tone

            Maybe we live in different worlds regarding titles and responsibilities. I personally require a lot more than simply taking a life, to consider someone a “hero”, so by my standards, you are wrong. What is or isn’t working in your neighborhood is irrelevant without more than your biased opinion. I don’t say that to imply that you are wrong or being dishonest or any other dramatic jab, I’m simply saying that in my experience, people who err on one side of an argument that they have no first hand perspective on, tend to have some predisposed bias and frankly are dangerous. Especially when they sound semi-intelligent, as people who lack the desire or ability to critically and impartially access a situation can become easily convinced that the opinions are actually fact. You’re conviction on this matter is alarming and sad as it paints a potentially lethal picture of a sad state where wearing a badge = impunity. Under that badge is a human and humans are fully capable of making mistakes and your view, based on whatever training or googling you’ve done, that this officer was acting without error is presumptuous arrogant and disrespectful to not only this kids family, but to the Federal agents waisting their time on an investigation. They should just call you instead I suppose and all go for coffee instead of waisting time looking into the details of this situation. Maybe you should write them a letter or something and save them some time and money.

          • bgal4

            Your response is a non sequitor bizarre rant, I misjudge you as somewhat sincere, now I see you as dishonest in your intentions.

            Raise your kids NOT to carry replica AK-47 and to avoid making fatal errors like drinking at a party to oblivion and falling off the cliff at UCB or playing on the train tracks and than blaming the conductor for killing your kid.

            Pay attention and be reasonable and fair. Andy and his parents are not being reasonable, if was a tragic accident that he had all the power to control. H could have heeded the warning of the passerby BEFORE the patrol even arrived. Drop the gun.

          • tone

            Not everyone had you as a parent. Not everyone is as informed as everyone else. What if the kid had terrible intentions and was a horrible child fated to fall some tragic death… or what if he was knowingly asking for trouble and turned to face that cop with the worst of intentions and got exactly what he deserved, or… what if his mother was anti-gun and anti-violence and he was raised better than that but was simply being a rebellious teenage boy who didn’t know the statistics on shooters as that was not his job. What if he did indeed run into an officer who lacked real life experience interacting with someone holding an assault weapon. What if the officer was doing the best with what he had, but his best cost the life of a kid. Im not saying wrong but I am saying responsible. If his only option was to approach, from behind, get this kids attention, then shoot when the kid responded in the most common manner when approached from behind… then I say you win and the cop was perfect and the kid screwed up etc. Etc. But… since it could have been handled differently, and the failure to do so resulted in the loss of life… then I still say RESPONSIBLE.

          • bgal4

            You do get it that the deputy has children who love him too and want him to come home alive. Turning on a cop who says drop the gun will get you shot, maybe killed.

            Maybe the middle schools should teach gun safety instead of how to put on a condom.

            It is kinda amazing the outrage from white libs and racist folks who ignore the daily carnage.

            This kids needed a bungling cop to survive.

          • tone

            At the increasing number of accidental child fatalities by “innocent” gun wielding public safety representatives, maybe they should teach these poor victimized civil servants how to distinguish between a percieved threat and an actual one. Or… lol… maybe you’re right and it should be the kids responsibility and not the adults who carry firearms. That makes perfect sense. You should run for office on that platform.

  • Linda Rose

    I believe that a $300 violation for carrying this BB gun, doesn’t equal to death. I also believe this very experienced gun expert should have allowed Andy the time to fully turn. Instead the officer claims, as Andy started to turn, the barrel of the weapon pointed up and this is when he blasted Andy full of bullets and allegedly continued to blast Andy after he fell dead. This officer’s partner was still in the cruiser by the time this child was shot dead! I believe this officer used unjustified use of deadly force. From laying his eyes on Andy, to being shot dead, only 10 seconds passed. This is very troubling…

    • bgal4

      Turning towards the cops with a fake or real weapon engages the officer’s training to protect his life and his partner.

      what is troubling, is you apologists who think cops should give up their right to self defense. unbelievable.

      • susan

        and I find that you think a cop is expressing self-defense when a 13 year old with a toy gun turns around to hear what an adult is saying to him. You disgust me!!

        • bgal4

          whatever
          obviously you are not a realist operating in the real world.
          have you ever met a 13 year old male, they are hardly little babies. do you have a clue how many 13 year old male have killed with guns.

        • charlotte emy

          Andy aready knew what they were there for. Remember, a neighbor told him the deputies were behind him, driving up to him and he needed to put the gun down..this BEFORE the Whoop of the siren and THEN the officer yelling TWICE to put the gun down. Tragic he didnt comply.

      • Alex Castillo

        I totally agree with Ms. Rose and Susan.

        Bgal4 you are pathetic; I hope one day someone takes 10 seconds to deiced if they should put 7 bullets in you!

      • Tamera C Penaloza

        Well you need to think harder than that, just read what was said. The deputy Sheriff that killed This 13 year old kid, pulled his gun out acting as if he believed that this boy had a real AK47 rifle. Do you actually think he would jump out of his vehicle that fast??? Neglecting his partner was still in the vehicle, didn’t even allow him to take cover. Wow!!! Yea sounds like he is just so interested in the safety of his partner not!!! Saying if the AK47 rifle was real, do you actually think he thought it was real??? By the way he approached it, yeah right!!! Knowing what this rifle can do, this man is a gun expert. So, it don’t sound right to me, sounds like and picturing how it happened. This cop saw an easy target, a boy not bothering anyone, but going to take the play rifle back to his friend. I wander why the deputy can’t give a better explanation why the boy looked suspicious a lot of boys play with pellet guns, rifles, etc… Did the boy have expressions on his face to make this deputy think he was going on a shooting spree??? Did the boy look worried, looking around to see if anyone was around to look as if he was about to go on a shooting spree. Wow!!! Don’t you know that cops look for the easiest targets it’s that simple. Why do you see a lot of so called accident killings 200 per year mistaken fake guns as real guns. It seems as if cops go for innocent kids or people than the real bAd guys, and that’s ridiculous.

        • bgal4

          right a man who is a father and a public servant for over 24 years who has never shot anyone while policing mean streets just decide to destroy his life for the heck of it. You are a fool, a dangerous one at that.

          • Tamera C Penaloza

            Oh yeah 24 years, and you really think??? he hasn’t did any wrong doing through his years of being a cop. We all are not aware of what else this cop has done!!! For example pulled over a 57 year old man for a freaking traffic stop. Yelled at this man for not using his blinker to change lanes. Yells and tell the man to get out of his car. Wow!!! Than pulls a gun on him, and telling the man to turn off his engine, the man says I did. He pulls his gun out for no freaking reason, excessive force used again. This so called deputy sheriff 24 years pulled his gun twice, even before he frisks him. So who cares if he had 24 years in the police force that don’t explain why??? He uses excessive force for just a man not using his blinker. This is bull, and it’s all power behind a gun, and I wander what else he has done, probably there is more out there he has used excessive force, but scared to come forward, or just know cops usually get away with it, so why fight. We all know the law wins most of the time, because the law protects them know matter what , right or wrong.

          • bgal4

            Typical, you are repeating the Westbrook tale leaving out critical details, try reading the driver Westbrook complaint letter to the Sheriff dept available on the CBS story about the incident. Westbrook apologies for any misunderstanding, he learned that his car matched the description of a vehicle on the look out list that day. The rest of your rant is grossly inaccurate as well.

            Gee I guess social justice to you means the right to lie, manipulate, distort and rant.

            I won’t be responding any further.

    • Tamera C Penaloza

      I will give an example this man that shot 3 people or TSA workers at the airport in Los Angeles. They got this man alive, and had reasons to shoot to kill. Because this man had a real gun with bullets, and shot at TSA workers, they had a probable cause to use excessive force. But not giving a 13 year old boy a chance, and after this deputy Erick shot and killed him the gun was a fake. So there is no explanation, but to say this was done in cold blood, and people want to make excuses to why Erick thought he had a reason to shoot 8 bullets at this young boy, he had no reason to use excessive force that was uncalled for. But we all know there is corrupt cops in the world it’s been going on for years.

  • Jane

    He had an AK-47 AND A Replica HANDGUN in his waistband!!! Little wannabe thug was asking for trouble!!!

  • Tamera C Penaloza

    People be careful for cops out there, that don’t always abide by laws, some use guns when not needed regardless if they are after someone matching the description. As if people don’t have the same exact cars, wow!!! Get real. I will keep going by my belief, because regardless the car matched the description. The man did not have a gun, and he was cooperating, so it’s always power behind the gun. On top if that they ignored this incident, that he still did not have probable cause to put a gun in this mans face, he did not have a good reason to use excessive force. Also the man complained against this and put in a complaint, and they act like they couldn’t respond to this. Now after this incident happened he killed an innocent boy with a play rifle. I guess 24 years of service was flushed down the toilet. Gun expert, wow??? Really??? Some kind of gun expert. You who all believe this so called deputy being in the police force this long, and his lies, stories, than he fooled you good.

  • Tamera C Penaloza

    Well I wander how in the world Andy Lopez could have pointed the barrel of the gun toward the deputy??? Knowing he had the rifle in his left side. The deputy claims he turned to his right side, there is no possible way the barrel of the gun pointed at the deputy. Knowing Andy Lopez had to turn to his right side to check who the heck was talking to him, since none of the deputies identified that they were law enforcement. So Andy looks, back and he would have to turn all the way around to point the barrel of the gun in the deputies direction. So that’s a bunch of bull. This tells me the deputy is lying, he used that to justify his action to shoot.