law enforcement

No Charges in Shooting of 13-Year-Old Andy Lopez By Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy

A sheriff's deputy won't be charged for fatally shooting 13-year-old Andy Lopez as he walked with a BB pellet rifle that resembled an AK-47 in Santa Rosa last October, in a shooting that triggered a spate of protests and calls for criminal charges.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced the decision not to file criminal charges on Monday afternoon.

Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times on Moorland Avenue just outside of Santa Rosa on Oct. 22, 2013. The teen died at the scene.

Ravitch called the shooting of Lopez "absolutely tragic," but said the actions of Sonoma County sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus were lawful and that he would not be charged.

"Here the implementation of lethal force was a reasonable response under the circumstances according to all of the evidence we have reviewed," she said.

Gelhaus told investigators he ordered Lopez to drop the rifle, but the barrel of the gun rose as the teen turned toward the deputies' patrol car. Gelhaus, who said he feared for his life, fired eight shots at Lopez, who was struck by seven bullets and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The district attorney's office released a 52-page report on what Ravitch called an "exhaustive" investigation into the details of the shooting. The FBI is still conducting its own independent investigation.

In response to Monday's announcement, the Lopez family issued the following statement: 

"After a long delay, District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced today that she will not be filing criminal charges against Erick Gelhaus, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.

This disheartening decision leaves the family feeling as though Andy had been killed again today. It is impossible to accept Ravitch’s conclusion that Gelhaus shot and killed Andy in response to what he 'honestly and reasonably believed was an imminent threat of death to himself or others.' No reasonable officer in such circumstances could believe he was encountering anything but a teenager with a toy gun on a sunny afternoon in a residential area.

Erick Gelhaus’ exaggerated and careless response deserves a truly transparent and impartial evaluation. Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion is a mockery of justice and confirms that her office cannot meaningfully sit in judgment of local law enforcement. 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 family, through their attorney, will petition the U.S. District court for the immediate lifting of the stay of the proceedings as to Erick Gelhaus and thereby allow the civil case to move forward as to him and Sonoma County.

The family will also urge the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office to conduct an impartial investigation as to the shooting and killing of Andy Lopez.

Lastly, for those who share their anguish over this decision, the family asks that the Sonoma County community to continue to observe peace."

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas also released a statement about Ravitch's decision, saying his "heart goes out to the friends of Andy Lopez, the involved deputies, and the entire Sonoma County community during this difficult time."

"We as a community need to come together to find every possible way to minimize the potential of a tragic incident like this from happening again," Freitas said.

About a dozen protesters were gathered outside the building where Ravitch disclosed the results of her review.

Human rights attorney Jonathan Melrod has led the charge against the sheriff’s department and Deputy Gelhaus in numerous protests since the shooting.

“He was shot because he was a kid carrying a toy gun where kids play,” Melrod said. "The militarization of the police is evolving into 'us versus them.’"

Community organizer Nicole Guerra, whose son was Lopez's friend, said it is ridiculous that "police can use the excuse they were in fear of their lives."

"Kids are in fear because they know cops can get away with it," Guerra said. "He should have known that was a toy.”

And on Monday night, protesters gathered at the Andy Lopez memorial and continued to voice their anger and opposition to the decision.

Daniel Lopez brought his 12-year-old son to the rally. He said the DA's decision deepens his fear of law enforcement.

"The same thing can happen to him or to any of us," Daniel Lopez said.

With criminal charges off the table in the Lopez case, mothers like Christina Garcia said they wonder how she and other families can be sure their kids are safe.

"I have kids, and I have teenager boys," Garcia said. "Something needs to stop this."

Protesters said they plan to gather at the district attorney's office Tuesday to make sure she is aware of their anger.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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