The Santa Rosa parents who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after their 13-year-old son was killed by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook the eighth-grader’s plastic gun for an AK-47 say they want justice and “an honest investigation.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco against Sonoma County, alleges that 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 on 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.”
At a news conference in San Francisco on Monday, Andy’s father, Rodrigo Lopez, called for justice.
“What I want to say is, we want justice,” he said, according to the Press Democrat. “And also we want an honest investigation.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department and the FBI are investigating the fatal shooting.
According to the lawsuit, Andy was 5-feet-3 and weighed 140 pounds and was not behaving in a threatening manner. There were also no people near him when Gelhaus opened fire. The suit described Andy’s BB gun as “an airsoft-type toy rifle.”
The suit also alleges that the Sheriff’s Office promoted the use of excessive force by its deputies.
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.
Santa Rosa Police Lt. Paul Henry has said Gelhaus believed the AK-47-styled pellet gun “was an authentic weapon.”
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.
Lopez’s death sparked outrage among many in Santa Rosa who felt the boy’s death was unnecessary and that authorities acted too quickly.
A lawyer for the family accused those at the Santa Rosa Police Department of not critically questioning the deputy’s account of what happened.
“It’s a done deal, folks,” attorney Arnoldo Casillas said, according to the Press Democrat. “They have already concluded it was justified. Shame on them."