SAN FRANCISCO -- The parents of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy killed by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook the eighth grader’s plastic gun for an AK-47 filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sonoma County on Monday, calling the shooting “a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleges that Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus acted unreasonably and in violation of the law when he shot Andy Lopez in a residential neighborhood in Santa Rosa in the afternoon of Oct. 22.
“Andy Lopez was a dynamic and vibrant boy,” the suit said. “His death has been a profound and unimaginable loss to his parents.”
The suit said Andy was 5-feet-3 and weighed 140 pounds. “In all respects he appeared to be a 13-year-old boy,” the suit said. It said that he was not behaving in a threatening manner, and that there were no people near him when the Gelhaus opened fire. The suit described Andy’s BB gun as “an airsoft-type toy rifle.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department and the FBI are investigating the fatal shooting. Gelhaus and an unidentified deputy who was with him but fired no shots have been placed on paid administrative leave during the probe.
The deputies were on patrol when they saw Andy from the back walking with the BB gun, a replica of an assault weapon. Gelhaus told police he could not remember whether he identified himself as a sheriff's deputy, but a witness said Gelhaus twice ordered Andy to drop the gun.
The suit said Gelhaus did not identify himself and issued only one command to drop the gun. Once the boy was shot and on the ground, Gelhaus continued to fire at him, the suit said. Police have said Gelhaus fired eight rounds.
The suit said Gelhaus had a history of using firearms recklessly, unnecessarily pointing guns at people and once accidentally shooting himself in the leg.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, but it names no amount.