A November 26 march organized by high school and middle school youth protesting the police killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez was met with overwhelming force by the Santa Rosa Police Department. The SRPD deployed 26 police cruisers and six motorcycle units to temporarily stop the march of about 80 young people, arresting one marcher and citing 12 others.
The pretext for this massive and outrageous deployment of police power was that the marchers were in the street on Mendocino Avenue, but the seven previous protests of the murder of Andy Lopez had all taken to the streets of Santa Rosa without incident. Thousands of people have marched and rallied in an outpouring of anger and grief unprecedented in the city’s history.
After the arrests, the march was successfully completed to the office of Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, where the protestors demanded that Ravitch indict sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus for the killing of Lopez.
A broad-based Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, incorporating many organizations in the area, has been formed and has charted an energetic campaign spanning the coming months. Actions are focused on the call for County sheriff’s Gelhaus to be indicted.
Thousands of children, youth and adults from around the world have posted photos and messages, in a tremendous outpouring of grief, anger and solidarity on the coalition’s Facebook page.
Andy Lopez, an 8th grade student, was shot and killed by Gelhaus on October 22, while walking with a BB gun in a field near his home in the southern part of Santa Rosa, a city of 160,000 located 50 miles north of San Francisco. That day, two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies pulled up in their patrol car behind Lopez. Gelhaus jumped out of the passenger’s sheet, took a firing position behind the door and yelled to Lopez to “drop the gun.” As Lopez, undoubtedly startled, began to turn to see who was yelling at him Gelhaus opened fire, hitting him seven times.
According to three eyewitnesses, only 2-3 seconds elapsed between the shouted command and the shooting.
Gelhaus, who admits that he’s “not sure” if he identified himself as a police officer according to media reports, claims that he believed Lopez was carrying a high-powered assault rifle and that the boy posed a threat to Gelhaus and his partner by turning and raising the barrel of the gun in their direction. The deputy who was driving the patrol car did not open fire.
The fatal bullet pierced Lopez’s upper right chest and went through both lungs and his heart, killing him almost instantly. According to Arnoldo Casillas, attorney for the Lopez family, the trajectory of the bullet definitively demonstrates that Andy had just begun to turn in the direction of the shouted command when he was hit with the fatal shot. The autopsy showed that several other bullets struck him when he was face-down on the ground. After the shooting, Gelhaus handcuffed Andy’s lifeless body and ordered the area evacuated.
Gelhaus is not a run-of-the-mill racist cop. He is a self-proclaimed weapons expert and weapons instructor as well as a deputy sheriff. He publishes regularly in weapons journals and websites, including SWAT magazine and the Firing Line Forum.
In a 2006 post titled, “He's Got a Gun!... A BB Gun...” Gelhaus outlined exactly what he would actually do on Oct. 22, 2013. He wrote that if police officers saw someone holding what might or might not be a real gun they should shoot first and later try to convince the authorities that they feared for their lives. “It's going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury. I think we keep coming back to this, articulation—your ability to explain why—will be quite significant.”
At a packed press briefing on November 4, attorney Casillas, accompanied by Lopez’s parents, Sujey Lopez Cruz and Rodrigo Lopez, announced the filing of a federal lawsuit. Casillas called the official investigation by the Santa Rosa Police Department “a whitewash,” and said, “It’s a done deal, folks. They [the SRPD] have already concluded it was justified. Shame on them.”