SONOMA DA: No Charges Planned in Andy Lopez Shooting

By Brian Shields and Mario Sevilla

Mon Jul 7th, 2014 12:04pm America/Los_Angeles

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SANTA ROSA (KRON) — The Sonoma County District Attorney announced on Monday afternoon that no charges will be filed against the sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year old Andy Lopez.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said that Sonoma Sheriff Deputy Erick Gelhaus faced a highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving situation and that he responded in a reasonable manner.

“The actions of Deputy Gelhaus were lawful and no criminal charges will be filed against him at this time.”

Ravitch released a 52-page report and said that the “exhaustive” investigation supports evidence that the incident was lawful self-defense and that the amount of force was reasonable.

On Oct. 22, 2013, Gelhaus fired eight times at Lopez, striking the eighth-grader seven times with his department-issued 9 mm handgun after the boy turned around and allegedly raised a pellet gun in the direction of two sheriff deputies, Gelhaus and Deputy Michael Schemmel.

The toy rifle Lopez was carrying resembled an AK-47 assault rifle, according to Ravitch.

“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 to be a deadly and risk that either he or his partner would be shot and killed, or fire his weapon when the threat was turned toward him.”

Gelhaus, 48, is a 24-year veteran of the department. He previously served in Iraq in the Army and was a certified training officer with the department.

 

“LETHAL FORCE WAS A REASONABLE RESPONSE”

Gelhaus and Schemmel were on patrol when they saw Lopez walking northbound along Moorland Avenue at 3:14 p.m. Gelhaus was riding in the passenger seat.

The second deputy remained behind the wheel of the cruiser while Gelhaus exited their vehicle and confronted Andy Lopez.

According to Ravitch, a witness in a nearby field said that they heard Gelhaus twice order Lopez to drop to drop the weapon. Lopez did not drop the weapon.

Gelhaus fired eight rounds at Lopez when the boy turned to the deputies and barrel of his air soft rifle started to rise, Ravitch said. Lopez was standing 67 feet away.

Schemmel did not open fire.

“Here, the implementation of lethal force was a reasonable response under the circumstances, according to all of the evidence we have reviewed,” Ravitch said during today’s press conference.

The boy suffered wounds to his chest, right hip and upper buttocks, left upper arm, and both wrists.

 

LOPEZ FAMILY REACTION

In a statement following the DA’s announcement, the Lopez family said Ravitch’s decision has left them feeling as though “Andy had been killed again.” They called the DA’s decision a mockery of justice.

“This cowardly political decision sends the tacit message that law enforcement officials who use excessive force in Sonoma County will not suffer meaningful consequences and, instead, will enjoy immunity from local prosecution,” the Lopez family said.

Through their attorney, the Lopez family said they will petition the U.S. District court for the immediate lifting of the stay of the proceedings as to Gelhaus and thereby allow the civil case to move forward as to him and Sonoma County.

Protesters say that the deputy did not give ample warning before opening fire. Investigators have said 10 seconds elapsed between the time Gelhaus and a second deputy reported a “suspicious person” in a Santa Rosa neighborhood and then reported shots fired to dispatchers.

The DA’s announcement came shortly after Ravitch’s office inadvertently sent out an e-mail Monday morning with a press release indicating there will be no criminal charges filed against Gelhaus. Moments later the prosecutor’s office sent out another notice trying to recall that e-mail.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas expressed his sentiment about the case in an email statement and said he is asking the community to come together to find every possible way to minimize the potential of a tragic incident like this from happening again.

“I would again like to express my sadness about this tragedy and my deepest sympathy goes out to the Lopez family. As a father, I can’t imagine the heartache the Lopez family must be going through. In addition to the Lopez family, my heart goes out to the friends of Andy Lopez, the involved deputies, and the entire Sonoma County community during this difficult time,” said Freitas.

“As Sheriff and as a resident of Sonoma County, I ask each of you to work with the Sheriff’s Office to continue to open lines of communication and join together as a community,” Freitas said.

 

COMMUNITY PROTESTS

The CHP says it’s standing by to help the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department and Santa Rosa police for the community’s reaction to the decision when it is announced.

Community protests have called for the prosecution of Gelhaus for homicide in the case. Gelhaus shot and killed 13-year old Andy Lopez last October after seeing the teen walking down a Santa Rosa street with what appeared to be an assault weapon. It turned out the gun was a toy replica that had had its orange tips removed. Gelhaus has said that he identified himself as a police officer before opening.

Authorities say they are prepared for the community reaction no matter what the prosecutors decide.

About 30 people were gathered outside the press conference in protest of today’s announcement. A separate protest has been planned for 4 p.m. at the Dollar Tree on Sebastopol Road.

The Lopez family asks that the Sonoma County community continue to observe peace.

 

 

Stay tuned to KRON 4, the KRON 4 Mobile App, and KRON4.com for complete coverage of this developing story.

(Copyright 2014, KRON 4, All rights reserved.)

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