Shooting of Andy Lopez
|Time||Approximately 3:14 PM (PST)|
|Date||October 22, 2013|
|Location||Moorland Avenue and West Robles Avenue, Sonoma County, California, United States|
|Participants||Erick Gelhaus (shooter)
Andy Lopez (death)
|Litigation||Lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against Sonoma County and Gelhaus pending|
The fatal shooting of Andy Lopez by Sonoma County sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus took place on October 22, 2013, in Santa Rosa, California. 13-year-old Lopez was carrying an airsoft gun that was designed to resemble an AK-47 assault rifle. Gelhaus opened fire on Lopez, claiming that he mistook the airsoft gun for a real firearm. The shooting has prompted many protests in Santa Rosa, and throughout California.
On November 4, 2013, the Lopez family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit at the U.S. District Court.
On July 7, 2014, District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced no charges would be filed against Gelhaus.
Andy Lopez, 13, (June 2, 2000 - October 22, 2013) was an eighth-grade student who attended Lewis Opportunity School in Santa Rosa. He was raised in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood in southwest Santa Rosa. He transferred to Lewis Opportunity School from Cook Middle School one week prior to his death. At the time of the shooting, Andy had smoked marijuana within the last 60 to 75 minutes and was "likely feeling the effects of that marijuana at the time of his encounter with the sheriff's deputies."
Erick Gelhaus is a Sonoma County sheriffs' deputy, and has worked with the agency for 24 years. He is an Iraq war veteran. Gelhaus is a firearms instructor and is a contributing writer to gun publications. He was an instructor for ten years at Gunsite Academy, an Arizona-based company that teaches gun-handling, marksmanship, and law enforcement to "elite military personnel, law enforcement officers and free citizens of the U.S." He specialized in teaching pistol, carbine, shotgun and rifle lessons. He accidentally shot himself in the leg in 1995 while on duty with the sheriff's office, reportedly while holstering a gun during an attempt at searching a teenager for weapons. In his 24 years in law enforcement, he had never shot a suspect until the shooting of Lopez.
According to Santa Rosa Police Lieutenant Paul Henry, two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies were patrolling the Moorland Avenue neighborhood when they spotted Andy Lopez, who was carrying an airsoft replica of an AK-47 assault rifle which did not have the orange tip that is a legal requirement for all toy guns for import. The sheriff's deputies reportedly approached the children from behind and called out to demand that Lopez drop the weapon, while he was walking on Moorland, just past the corner of West Robles Avenue. Deputy Michael Schemmel remained in the police car while deputy Erick Gelhaus was outside of the car and was directly interacting with Lopez. At 3:14 pm, Erick Gelhaus, fired 8 shots at Lopez from his department-issued 9 mm handgun. Seven bullets hit Andy within 6 seconds, two of them delivering fatal wounds with one round hitting him on his side while he was turning to face the police, according to an autopsy. The deputies then immediately handcuffed Lopez. When Lopez was searched after the shooting he was also found to have a replica pistol in his waistband, which reportedly looked realistic and was missing its orange tip. He was pronounced dead on the scene. There are conflicting reasons given as to why Lopez was carrying the replica firearms, with some stating that he was returning them to a friend and others saying that he was supposedly going to use them to try and scare a friend as a joke. Lopez was found to be under the influence of marijuana after an autopsy.
On October 26, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation started to conduct an independent investigation in Lopez's death. Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas announced in a statement on October 25 that he will cooperate fully with federal investigators. It is the first time for the FBI to investigate an officer-involved shooting in Sonoma County since the 1997 shooting death of Kuan Chung Kao in Rohnert Park.
Investigators said Gelhaus feared for his safety after Lopez turned around and allegedly raised the pellet gun in his direction (a replica of an AK-47 that was an air-soft gun that fired plastic pellets). Gelhaus told investigators that he could not remember if he verbally identified himself as a deputy sheriff, although he was in a deputy sheriff's uniform and marked sheriff's patrol car before firing at Lopez.
Gelhaus was cleared to return to duty on December 9, 2013, but was able to work at his desk and not on patrol. On July 7, 2014, District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced no charges would be filed against Gelhaus.
Arnoldo Casillas, the lawyer representing Lopez's family, said that the shooting was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment's limits on police authority. On November 4, the Lopez family filed a lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming that Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez “without reasonable cause.”
As a result of the criticism in the shooting death of Lopez, a series of protests were organized and held. The protests were mainly organized by immigrant, religious and community groups and activists. Many protesters have stated that Lopez's shooting was a case of police brutality. On October 25, 2013, more than 100 people, consisting mostly of middle school and high school students, protested at the Santa Rosa City Hall. On October 29, over 1,000 people attended a protest in downtown Santa Rosa, in the form of a mass march. The march initiated in the Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa, and ended at the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. Lawyer John Burris, who represented the family of police brutality victim Oscar Grant, gave a speech at the rally. Attendees traveled from all over the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the event. Many protesters held picket signs demanding justice. Up to 200 people attended a march in Santa Rosa on November 5, 2013, including activist Cindy Sheehan. They also demanded that District Attorney Jill Ravitch issue an arrest warrant for Gelhaus or put together a grand jury, but she declined both, stating that the investigation would take time.
On November 26, 2013, several people were detained during protests in Santa Rosa. A dozen demonstrators were cited for blocking traffic, and one demonstrator was arrested and booked for resisting arrest. There were 80 people attending that protest, consisting of local middle and high-school students, and several members of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a Bay Area-based civil rights group.
On December 3, 2013, protesters targeted Ravitch at her re-election fundraiser.
On December 9, 2013, Gelhaus was cleared to return to duty, which resulted in additional protests.
One person was arrested for battery on a police officer for allegedly punching a police officer and hitting another officer with a picket sign during a protest at the Santa Rosa City Hall on December 10, 2013. Charges were dropped against this person in May 2014. A second person was arrested for obstructing a police officer and violating probation. Multiple protesters vandalized the front door of the Sonoma County Jail, breaking its glass.
On February 17, 2014, protesters for Andy Lopez gathered at the Santa Rosa Plaza food court to eat lunch while wearing shirts displaying "RIP Andy Lopez." Several mall security guards came up to them and asked them to remove their t-shirts or leave the mall. The attorney for Simon Malls, owner of Santa Rosa Plaza, apologized in a letter issued to relatives of Andy Lopez, stating that they were disappointed that the security guards did not comply with the mall's policies and procedures. The head of security for Santa Rosa Plaza was fired one month later in connection with the incident.
On July 12, 2014, over 100 protesters held a rally at the Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, in response to their disapproval with prosecutors' decision to not file charges against Erick Gelhaus. A small group of protesters marched up onto northbound Highway 101, blocking traffic.
A memorial park was created for Lopez in December 2013, located near the site of his death.
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