DOJ Clears Sheriff’s Deputy in Death of Andy Lopez

Altar in downtown Santa Rosa decorated in honor of Andy Lopez, November 2013. (Rachel Dornhelm/KQED)

The U.S. Department of Justice won’t file criminal charges against Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who fatally shot 13-year-old Andy Lopez in 2013, the sheriff’s department said on Wednesday.

“The FBI investigation, which was reviewed by the United States Department of Justice, concluded that there were no federal civil rights violations,” the Sonoma sheriff’s department wrote in a statement. “The Sheriff reaffirms his support and confidence in Deputy Gelhaus and the work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office to provide public safety services to the citizens of Sonoma County.”

The Justice Department said its investigation turned up “insufficient evidence” to charge Gelhaus with federal civil rights violations, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Gelhaus fired eight rounds at Lopez, who was holding a replica AK-47 rifle. Lopez was hit by seven of the bullets.

Supporters of Lopez’s family say they’re disappointed but not surprised.

“We’re not going to get real justice in this case,” said Santa Rosa Attorney Izaak Schwaiger. “We won’t. We won’t. There’s a child who is dead. And regardless of your political affiliations or where you stand, that’s a tragedy at best and it’s murder at worst.”

The shooting occurred in Santa Rosa on Oct 22, 2013. Gelhaus and a deputy-in-training pulled up behind Lopez in their patrol car, and according to a Sonoma County District Attorney’s report, called for backup, took cover behind open car doors, and twice warned Lopez to put his gun down — all within 10 seconds. Gelhaus told investigators he opened fire because Lopez turned toward him, raising the replica gun’s barrel in his direction. Seven of the eight bullets Gelhaus fired hit the teenager. The second deputy did not discharge his weapon.

Protests ensued both after the shooting and when the DA cleared Gelhaus of wrongdoing in July 2014. The 52-page report issued by District Attorney Jill Ravitch concluded: “Deputy Gelhaus was faced with a highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving situation. Given his training and experience, he believed, honestly and reasonably, that he was faced with a’ do or die’ dilemma; wait for the subject to fire what he believed was a deadly weapon … or fire his weapon when the threat was turned toward him.”

Gelhaus returned to patrolling the streets in August, to the consternation of some in the community.

In 2013, Lopez’s parents filed a civil rights lawsuit against Sonoma County, scheduled to go to trial in April 2016, according to the Press Democrat.

The incident prompted California to pass a law requiring that BB, pellet and airsoft guns sold in the state be painted bright colors or be made transparent to distinguish them from real weapons. An orange tip meant to identify toy guns had broken off Lopez’s replica weapon, his friends told investigators.

Peter Jon Shuler, Dan Brekke and Associated Press contributed to this report.

DOJ Clears Sheriff’s Deputy in Death of Andy Lopez 8 July,2016Jon Brooks


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. In 2014, he won a California Journalism Award for his coverage of ride services like Uber and Lyft and the taxi industry. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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