Sonoma County has agreed to pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit with the parents of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy who was fatally shot in 2013 by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook the boy’s plastic gun for an AK-47.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, alleged that Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus acted unreasonably when he shot Andy Lopez, an eighth-grader, in a residential neighborhood. The lawsuit called the Oct. 22 shooting, which sparked protests and rallies in Sonoma County, “a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.”
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the settlement Tuesday.
“My heartfelt condolences go out to the Lopez family because I can’t imagine what it’s been like for them to go through this,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said. “In the end, the Sheriff’s Office and the county decided the best answer was to settle this case. Bottom line, a 13-year-old died.”
Gelhaus, a firearms expert, Iraq war veteran and a contributor to online forums dealing with guns and police use of force, was on patrol with another deputy when they spotted the boy and pulled their car behind him. Gelhaus jumped from the car, crouched behind the door and shouted: “Drop the gun.”
Authorities said as the teen turned toward him, Gelhaus fired eight shots, striking the boy seven times. An autopsy determined two of the rounds were fatal.
No charges were brought against Gelhaus, but the deputy was named in the lawsuit, which alleged excessive use of force and a violation of the 4th Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable seizures.”
The case had been cleared to go to trial after the Supreme Court in June denied the county’s appeal seeking immunity for Gelhaus. A federal judge in Oakland had previously refused to grant the deputy immunity, and the 9th Circuit upheld that decision in 2017.