Santa Rosa, Calif. — Over 300 people came here on July 12 from all over the San Francisco Bay Area to protest Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s decision not to file criminal charges against Sheriff’s Deputy Erik Gelhaus for the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez. Lopez was killed in Santa Rosa on Oct. 22, 2013.
The DA’s report concludes that “Deputy Gelhaus fired his weapon in response to what he honestly and reasonably believed was an imminent threat of death to himself or others.”
However, according to Santa Rosa Police Lt. Paul Henry, “In a matter of seconds, Gelhaus ordered the boy to drop the weapon, then opened fire before the trainee [Michael Schemmel] could take cover behind an open door of the car.” (KRON 4 News, Oct. 30, 2013)
This correlates with dispatch records showing that only 10 seconds elapsed between Gelhaus’ confronting of Lopez and his firing the fatal shots, eight in total, seven of them hitting the 13-year-old. No questions have been raised as to why Gelhaus rushed to engage in the first place, as young Lopez was just walking in a field with no one nearby or threatened.
The DA’s own reports said that other witnesses talked about how it was obvious that a rifle Lopez carried was a toy. Its light weight could be deduced by the relaxed way the small boy was carrying it. Gelhaus is reputed to be a weapons expert.
Adding to the stench of injustice, the DA’s expert witness in toy gun cases, William Lewinski, has a history of siding with police. Lewinski “said he reviewed statements by other witnesses, but interviewed only Gelhaus. Likewise, he interviewed only one person — former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle — before testifying at Mehserle’s murder trial for fatally shooting unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on an Oakland transit platform in January 2009.” (San Francisco Chronicle, July 11)
Jonathan Melrod, an attorney for the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, suggested to this reporter at the protest rally the possibility of “an impeachment of the impartiality of her [DA Ravitch’s] investigation.” He stated, “We will find an appropriate forum for redress.” Melrod said they may demand that the Department of Justice do an investigation similar to a recent one in Albuquerque, N.M., noting that there have been 64 police-related deaths in Sonoma County since the year 2000.
Melrod commented on how the movement had broadened beyond Sonoma County. He noted that families representing 10 other victims of police killings had come and spoken at the rally. They included Oscar Herrera, father of Oscar Herrera, from Dublin, Calif., and Tony Serrano, brother of Yemira Serrano, killed recently in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Dionne Smith and Carey Downs, parents of James Rivera Jr. of Stockton, Calif., also attended.
The demonstrators marched and conducted a die-in at Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue. Some took their protest and signs inside a department store. Another group marched up the freeway ramp of Highway 101, blocking traffic on the highway until police finally forced them to retreat.
JCAL activist Dara McCuistion explained to this reporter that “Ravitch is doing her job. Their job is to cover up.” McCuistion talked about an anonymous retired officer who had exposed “how Gelhaus once held a gun to a child’s head.” She added, “It’s our job to say, ‘No more!’ The entire system is here to criminalize people for the prison-industrial complex.”
She reported that Sugay Lopez, Andy’s mother, had said to her: “Those seven bullets [that killed her son] will be in my body for the rest of my life.” The family has also been quoted by several sources as saying that the DA’s decision not to prosecute Gelhaus was like experiencing Andy being killed all over again.