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No Charges Against Deputy in Shooting of Santa Rosa Teenager

| July 7, 2014
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Above: In May video, community members called for continued peaceful response to Andy Lopez case.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office will not file criminal charges against a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a realistic-looking toy assault rifle.

Last October’s shooting of Andy Lopez by sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus touched off a series of protest marches in Santa Rosa, in which the community’s Latino community accused police of a history of excessive force and lack of accountability. Activists, through a May video (see above) and social media, have called for the community response to remain peaceful.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch told reporters at a press conference in Santa Rosa that Gelhaus “fired his weapon in response to what he honestly and reasonably believed was an imminent threat of death to himself or others. As such, he was lawfully acting in defense of himself or others, and no basis for seeking criminal charges exists.”

In an extended statement, Ravitch recounted the events that led to the Lopez shooting on Oct. 22.

Those events unfolded rapidly after Gelhaus and another sheriff’s deputy, on routine patrol, spotted the teenager as he walked in a residential neighborhood on the southern edge of Santa Rosa. Lopez was carrying a replica AK-47 that Gelhaus told investigators he believed was a real firearm.

Gelhaus alerted dispatchers while his partner pulled up in a marked patrol car behind the teenager. Gelhaus got out of the vehicle, drew his semiautomatic service weapon, and ordered Lopez to put down his weapon. Gelhaus told investigators he opened fire when Lopez began to turn toward him — firing eight shots and hitting Lopez seven times. Gelhaus’s partner was assuming a firing position but did not fire any shots during the encounter.

A timeline of the episode released a few days after the shooting showed that just 10 seconds elapsed between the time the deputies alerted a dispatcher about a suspicious person and their call that shots had been fired.

In the account she delivered today and included in a 52-page report (embedded below). Ravitch said her office will release, the district attorney amended that timeline somewhat. She said that 19 seconds elapsed between the time Gelhaus and his partner radioed an urgent call for assistance and their broadcast that shots had been fired.

In answering a reporter’s question about whether Gelhaus reacted reasonably in firing eight shots at Lopez, Ravitch said investigators had talked to the deputy “about when he began to shoot and when he stopped shooting, and we established that when there no longer was a threat, the shooting stopped. It’s worth pointing out that the deputy had 18 rounds in his weapon and only eight were expended.”

Ravitch mentioned several times during her appearance that an outside expert had determined that Gelhaus’s semiautomatic pistol was capable of firing eight rounds in two seconds.

In November, Lopez’s parents filed suit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County, alleging that the killing was “a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.” That suit has been on hold pending the outcome of the district attorney’s investigation.

Another reporter asked Ravitch whether the investigation had established whether Lopez had heard Gelhaus’s command to put down his weapon.

“No, sir,” Ravitch replied. “He was not available to give me that information.”

The family’s attorney, Arnoldo Casillas, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that Ravitch had called him about noon Monday to tell him of her office’s decision not to charge Gelhaus:

“The family and my office are greatly disappointed with the decision,” Casillas said. “If there was ever a case where charges were warranted, it was this one.”

Casillas said the decision would allow the family’s civil lawsuit against Gelhaus and the county to go forward.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • Olav

    Time for some street justice. No DA’s decision will protect a killer cop from a well-placed vigilante’s bullet.

  • Joe

    Why didn’t little Andy do what the cop asked and drop the toy gun?

    • David Phillips

      Because he didn’t have a chance. Gelhaus rode up behind him, barked, and then shot him as he turned around. The kid didn’t even know what hit him. All the wounds were on the rear and side of his body and 10 seconds elapsed between when Lopez was first seen and when he was shot..

      • jeff_lampenfeld

        You didn’t read the whole article did you David? The DA amended that timeline to 19 seconds. How long does it take you to drop a gun when a police officer tells you to do so?

  • M.

    “Gelhaus’s semiautomatic pistol was capable of firing eight rounds in two seconds”

    Bullsheet …. It can only fire one round for every pull of the trigger. So this superman can pull the trigger for EIGHT aimed shots in 2 seconds??? BULLSHEET !!!!! Can you say COVERUP??????

  • Brooklyn1825

    How come you can walk into chili’s or target with a gun and walk out but this child is dead?

  • David Phillips

    Non-LEO would have gotten a Manslaughter charge. What a non-LEO “reasonably believed” would have been tested at trial.

    Different set of rules for them in our Injustice System.

    • Tom Alexander

      Idiot!

  • Larry Hobel

    sorry all you armchair quarterbacks who think you know it all……this was a good shoot and they came to the right decision for the officer involved. Had any of you taken the time to read the entire report and look at the pictures that replica AK-47 sure as hell looked like the real deal and I would have fired too. If anybody is to blame for this kid being dead its his parents for being stupid enough to buy him a toy gun that looks like the real deal. Sorry to say this man made the right choice given the fact that he had about 10 seconds to make a life and death choice. until you man up and have the balls to put the uniform and badge on and face down the scum that is trying to kill you on a daily basis…keep your half assed opinions to yourself

  • jeff_lampenfeld

    That has to be one of the most obvious cases of a warranted police shooting. Bottom line: The officer feared for his life and for the life of his partner.

  • partmaker .

    What we need now is the Feds to come in and correct this obvious injustice. Another case of a cop being stupid. One would also hope that this would cost the county sheriff and the DA their jobs in the next election or via special recall election. If Gelhaus had an ounce of pride he would resign.