Decision on Santa Rosa Deputy Shooting Could Spark Violence

Authorities are preparing for possible protests when a Northern California prosecutor decides whether to criminally charge a sheriff's deputy for the shooting death of an unarmed 13-year-old boy.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on Thursday that Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas is rescheduling deputies' work shifts to make sure a maximum number of deputies are available. The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, has dispatched a conciliation specialist to organize community leaders to serve as peacemakers if tensions rise between police and protesters.

``We will absolutely do our best to defend people's right to protest and demonstrate,'' Freitas said. ``But we will take action if people vandalize property or injure people. Hopefully, that won't happen.''

Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Andy Lopez seven times on Oct. 22. as the teen walked in a Santa Rosa neighborhood with a BB gun. Gelhaus told investigators he believed the BB gun was an assault rifle.

The shooting sparked numerous protests immediately after the shooting and again when Gelhaus returned to work in December. Sheriff's officials said Gelhaus will be assigned to a desk job until prosecutors decide whether to file charges.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has not announced when she will decide on charges. The district attorney's office didn't return a phone call.

Gelhaus attorney Terry Leoni said his client acted appropriately because he feared for his life.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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