The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported this morning that the sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez last Tuesday is Erick Gelhaus, 48.
The Press Democrat says Gelhaus, who joined the sheriff’s office in 1989, is “a firearms expert, Iraq War veteran and prolific contributor to magazines and online forums dealing with guns and police use of force.” (Here’s a post on ammunition Gelhaus wrote just two weeks ago for the site Modern Service Weapons.) He is also a training officer, who was supervising the other deputy at the scene of the shooting.
Gelhaus and another deputy encountered Lopez while he was carrying a toy BB gun that the deputies mistook for an AK-47 assault rifle. They ordered him to drop the gun, and as he started to turn around, Gelhaus fired eight shots, hitting Lopez seven times. He died on the scene. The shooting is now under investigation by the FBI as well as a joint investigation by the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments, and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
Gelhaus’ LinkedIn profile lists him as a staff writer for S.W.A.T. Magazine and an instructor for Gunsite Academy, which offers gun training courses in Arizona. It also lists stints in the Army and National Guard.
The Press Democrat writes that “Gelhaus has been a frequent advocate in his writing for a prepared, aggressive stance in law enforcement, a profession he has described as a ‘calling’ and likened to a ‘contact sport.'” An article he wrote for S.W.A.T. Magazine in 2008, the paper reports, “about strategies for surviving an ambush in the ‘kill zone,'” described the “nanoseconds (that) seem like minutes as you scramble to react while simultaneously thinking about your children and spouse.”
As Dan Brekke blogged on Friday, a timeline of the incident released by Santa Rosa police shows that just 10 seconds elapsed between the time Gelhaus and his partner first reported spotting Lopez and the time they reported that shots were fired. In that interval, according to official accounts, the deputies pulled up behind Lopez, called for backup, took cover behind their open car doors, and warned him twice to drop his gun.
Another snippet from his online writings, from S.W.A.T. in 2008:
“Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home.”
And remarkably, in a 2005-2006 debate on The Firing Line forum about the justification for shooting someone who brandishes a BB Gun, Gelhaus contributed this:
“It’s going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury. I think we keep coming back to this, articulation — your ability to explain why — will be quite significant.”
In 2004, according to the Press Democrat, the sheriff’s office awarded Gelhaus its Medal of Valor for pulling occupants out of a burning vehicle. The full profile on Gelhaus here.
In other news related to the shooting, the paper said more than 1,000 people attended Lopez’s viewing service Sunday.
Only about 150 people at a time could fit in the room at the Windsor-Healdsburg Mortuary on Old Redwood Highway where the service was being held. A long line of people, many carrying white carnations, many of them young and wearing T-shirts bearing Andy Lopez’s photograph, waited to pay their respects.
They filed through the hall throughout the day, placing flowers on the casket. Parents held toddlers close. Teens in white shirts with Lopez’ photo walked arm-in-arm.
The casket was surrounded by flowers and enlarged photos of Andy Lopez. In one photo Lopez wore his characteristic beanie hat and in another he saluted the sky. In a third, Lopez beamed from the back seat of a car, wearing a pink vest and tie.
At one point, Rodrigo Lopez appeared to try to pull his 13-year-old son’s body from the casket and a crowd of family and friends rapidly drew in to enclose and comfort him. Full article
Here’s a video report from KPIX on the memorial and local reaction.
On Friday, Time posted an article on the “latest in a long line of incidents of police shooting — and sometimes killing — people whom they have have mistakenly thought to be armed with a real firearm.”
The Department of Justice says the federal government doesn’t keep ongoing statistics on the trend, but in a 1990 paper funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. police reported that they had used or threatened to use force “in a confrontation where an imitation gun had been mistaken for a real firearm” at a rate of about 200 incidents per year. The paper’s authors suggested that this number was “significantly underreported.” A series of toy gun-related deaths in the late 80s helped pass a federal amendment, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Dole, that requires all toy, “look-alike,” or imitation firearms to have a bright orange plug or other salient marking. But manufacturers don’t always adhere to required standards and markings can be altered, according to law enforcement.
The replica that Lopez was carrying did not have an orange tip, as required by law.