Bay City News

Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Who Fatally Shot 13-Year-Old Andy Lopez Prompted to Sergeant

The Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez in 2013 has been promoted to sergeant, a sheriff's office spokesman confirmed Friday.

Erick Gelhaus, 51, and another deputy, Mechelle Buchignani, were promoted in May during a civil service promotion process, sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

Gelhaus will oversee eight to 10 deputies who patrol four zones in unincorporated Sonoma County, and his hourly pay will increase from $49.10 to $55.02, Crum said.

Two other deputies, James Percy and Ryan Russell, have been promoted to sergeants since May, Crum said.

Gelhaus is an Iraq war veteran and has a bachelor's and master's degree. He has been with the sheriff's office for 26 years, Crum said.

Gelhaus shot Andy seven times on Oct. 22, 2013, as the teen walked along Moorland Avenue outside southwest Santa Rosa with a BB pellet rifle designed to look like an assault weapon.

Gelhaus told investigators he ordered Andy to drop the rifle, but the barrel of the rifle rose as the teenager turned toward Gelhaus and another deputy outside their patrol car.

Protests and demands that Gelhaus be fired and prosecuted followed the shooting, but Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch determined charges would not be filed against Gelhaus because the shooting, though tragic, was lawful under the circumstances.

Gelhaus was placed on leave but returned to duty in August 2014.

Crum said Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas knows Gelhaus' promotion will upset some people, but the vast majority of the public want Freitas to follow the rules providing opportunities for promotion.

"He has a moral and legal duty to do so," Crum said. "He doesn't want to treat him any differently than any other deputy who tested for the position."

Crum continued: "The promotion process is overseen by the county's Human Resources Board but the Sheriff has the final say."

For his part, Freitas stressed, "I know some people may be concerned about me promoting Erick Gelhaus. I want everyone to know he is highly qualified. If I didn't believe that he wouldn't be promoted."

Meanwhile, Gelhaus' promotion brought back painful memories Friday in a neighborhood that is still mourning Andy's death.

"He's not welcome here at all," Daniel Garcia, a friend of the slain teenager, said of Gelhaus.

Garcia said he has nothing to say to law enforcement officials who promoted Gelhaus.

"It makes me more sad than mad," he admitted. "I thought he would have [had] a guilt trip, honestly, and just left, but I guess he still wants to be here."

Gelhaus' attorney told NBC Bay Area that though Andy's shooting death was sad, but legally justifed.

"The promotion was warranted — it was well supported, well deserved," Michael Rains said. "If anything, it was overdue because he’s been a solid deputy with this agency for years. 

The Lopez family has filed a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against the county, the Sheriff's Office and Gelhaus.

Their attorney Christian Pereyra expressed disappointment at the sheriff's decision, but family members declined to comment on Friday's news.

"I knew Andy. He wasn't a dangerous kid at all and he just killed him right there," Garcia said.

Contact Us