By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
Attorneys for the parents of a Santa Rosa, Calif., teenager fatally shot after police saw him walking with a toy gun has filed three wrongful death claims against Sonoma County while supporters of the family are demanding the immediate arrest of the deputy who shot him.
The legal claims for damages in unspecified amounts describe the shooting as unreasonable and unjustified. Supporters of the Lopez family say Santa Rosa Sheriff Deputy Erick Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran and firearms instructor, should be indicted for murder after shooting 13-year-old son Andy Lopez on Oct. 22.
“They want justice. They want the process to take its course. They’re very hurt. They’re in shock. They’re bewildered by what’s happened here and feeling what a normal family would feel to lose someone,” said Alex Salazar, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer turned private investigator. He is working the case on the family’s behalf.
Supporters have demanded a Nov. 5 meeting with Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch to present their declaration of indictment. They planned to march from downtown Santa Rosa to the DA’s office at Final Call press time.
Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting an independent investigation into the shooting and a joint investigation is underway by the Santa Rosa Police Department, Petaluma Police Department, and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
According to Mr. Salazar, the teen was walking home with a toy gun, an air-soft rifle police say closely resembled an AK-47. But Mr. Salazar said it was very easy to tell it was a replica.
Just 10 seconds passed between the time Deputy Gelhaus radioed in that he had a suspect with a weapon and the time he’d shot the child, according to Mr. Salazar.
“This guy did not wait! Tactics would dictate that if you have someone with an AK if you’re with a two-man patrol car, you’re going to stop. They’re going to radio for back up. They’re going to call an air ship, a helicopter, a police unit, to take an advantage,” he said.
“You’re going to call out maybe even a SWAT team, some hostage negotiators, some other units here to do that. This individual failed to do that,” Mr. Salazar continued. He said his view was common sense and 27-years’ experience in law enforcement.
According to Mr. Salazar, an eyewitness on top of a roof said he heard two shots and dropped down. “When he hit the ground he brought his head up to look over across the street into the people where the noise emanated from. He saw a body facing down and as he saw the body he heard an additional five to six shots being fired at this body that was on the ground,” Mr. Salazar alleged.
The eyewitness’ account is consistent with the autopsy report indicating the child was shot in the behind, Mr. Salazar continued.
Activists say as more details about the shooting come out, local government has become more aggressive against those demonstrating and questioning the shooting. During a protest at the Sheriff’s Station immediately after the incident, officers stood on roof tops with automatic weapons, said activists.
Any intelligent person could look at the situation and conclude Deputy Gelhaus overreacted, Mr. Salazar said. He said the deputy is a so-called expert but the shooting occurred in a place where children were playing and are commonly known as a location where youngsters gather to play with their air-soft guns.
Now officers are trying to create a scenario where their comrade was being attacked, but evidence is revealing that just isn’t true because the gun Andy Lopez had cannot fire real rounds, Mr. Salazar told The Final Call.
“The toy gun is not the problem. It is the culture of the police department, capitalism, and the de-humanizing of the Black or Brown man or child,” said Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle. The Grant family and the Oscar Grant Foundation are among a broad coalition of supporters who’ve embraced the Lopez family.
Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back on a station platform in the Bay Area by a former transit officer. Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served nine months in a L.A. County jail.
In addition to coordinating a vigil at the shooting site, the Nov. 5 “Jailhouse for Gelhaus” gathering at the Santa Rosa Courthouse Square, a Nov. 9 National Day of Protest for Andy Lopez, and an upcoming “No-Spending Day,” Michael Rothenberg is helping to coordinate national Justice for Andy Lopez activities.
His group, 100,000 Poets for Change, uses poetry readings and political activity to help raise awareness about incident like the Lopez shooting.
Mr. Rothenberg is outraged that students are allegedly being threatened with suspension if they speak out against the shooting by participating in protests, marches or vigils. “It’s not going to be effective. The kids are going to want to be engaged. The adults are going to be engaged. The community is going to be engaged and the good old boys are not going to be able to silence it,” he said.