By PAUL ELIAS Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — The parents of a Northern California teen fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy alleged that their son was gunned down too quickly and without legal justification in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court.
The lawsuit alleges Sonoma County deputy sheriff Erick Gelhaus shot Andy Lopez, 13, with almost no warning on Oct. 22 after observing the teen walking in Santa Rosa with a pellet gun that resembled an automatic weapon. The boy had been returning the “airsoft-type toy” to a friend when, according to the lawsuit, a patrol car carrying Gelhaus and an unidentified partner, who was driving, sped within about 35 feet of Lopez.
Investigators say 10 seconds elapsed between the time the deputies reported a “suspicious person” and then reported shots fired to dispatchers. Sheriff’s officials have said Gelhaus says he feared for his life and that’s why he began shooting.
“As the vehicle stopped, one of the deputies shouted one command to Andy Lopez from within the patrol car,” the lawsuit states. After that, in a matter of seconds, Gelhaus fired eight shots from his service revolver, striking Lopez in the chest, arms and buttocks.
The Sonoma County coroner has not released any official findings. The Santa Rosa Police Department has been assigned the investigation to determine if any crime has been committed.
The FBI said it also is looking into the shooting to determine if any civil rights violations have occurred.
By Maura Dolan, LA Times
SAN FRANCISCO — Andy Lopez was walking to a friend’s home on the outskirts of Santa Rosa when a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed him, mistaking the eighth-grader’s plastic BB gun for an assault weapon.
The afternoon killing of the bright, popular 13-year-old has spurred almost daily protests and nightly candlelight vigils in Santa Rosa, a community known as a gateway to the wine country, with stately Victorians on quiet, tree-shaded streets and edgier enclaves pockmarked with gang graffiti.
As the FBI and Santa Rosa police investigate the Oct. 22 killing, some community leaders are talking to lawmakers about finding ways to deter such shootings, which occur with disturbing frequency across the country when police mistake plastic guns for lethal weapons.
“There are so many kids running around with these things that it is almost inevitable there will be additional shootings in the future,” said Dan Reeves, chief of staff to state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).
De León carried a bill in 2011 at the behest of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to require BB guns be painted bright colors. It followed an LAPD officer’s shooting of a teenager who had an airsoft pistol, a replica of a Beretta handgun.