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.