Today was another day of protests in Santa Rosa over the fatal shooting two weeks ago of eighth-grader Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. About 100 people showed up this morning to address the regular meeting of the county Board of Supervisors about the killing. Afterward, a crowd of about 200 marched to the nearby Hall of Justice to demand a grand jury investigate the case.
The deputy who shot Lopez, Erick Gelhaus, spotted the 13-year-old on Oct. 22 carrying what turned out to be a pellet-gun replica of an AK-47 assault rifle. Gelhaus opened fire when Lopez didn’t immediately comply with an order to put the gun down and instead began turning toward the deputy. Gelhaus, a 24-year department veteran with extensive experience as a police weapons trainer, fired eight shots, hitting Lopez seven times.
Santa Rosa police investigators have emphasized the similarity between the toy gun Lopez was carrying and an actual AK-47. Critics of the shooting have focused on the brief span — apparently less than 10 seconds — between the moment Gelhaus and his partner spotted the teenager and when Gelhaus opened fire.
Santa Rosa resident Alfredo Sanchez dramatized that issue at this morning’s three-hour Board of Supervisors meeting, saying he was convinced Lopez’s ethnicity played a part in the decision to shoot him.
“Mississippi one, Mississippi two, Mississippi three, Mississippi four, Mississippi five, Mississippi six, Mississippi seven, Mississippi eight, Mississippi nine, Mississippi ten. Boom! A life was taken in 10 seconds,” Sanchez said.
Some in the audience raised questions about community policing and citizen oversight.
Vince Harper of Community Action Partnership, a Santa Rosa-based anti-poverty organization, said the Latino families he works with are asking a difficult question: “How can I trust that when I call the police this won’t happen to my family — to my kids?”
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that leaders of the march would be meeting with Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch to discuss the case.
Lopez’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit (see document below) on Monday against Gelhaus and Sonoma County, saying the killing was “a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.”
Among other details that depart from the current police account of the shooting, the suit alleges that only three seconds elapsed between the deputies’ first shouted warning to Lopez and the time Gelhaus began shooting. The suit also says the deputies never identified themselves as police officers and that Gelhaus continued firing even after the mortally wounded Lopez fell to the ground.
KQED’s Alex Emslie contributed to this report.