SANTA ROSA — Dozens of angry protesters flooded the City Council chambers of a Northern California town Tuesday to protest the return to duty of a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy in October.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, about 75 demonstrators poured into a Santa Rosa council meeting to decry Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus’s return to work after fatally shooting Andy Lopez on Oct. 22. The teen was carrying a BB gun that looked like an assault rifle, and Gelhaus thought it was a real weapon.
Many of the protesters carried white crosses in memory of the teen.
Protesters say Gelhaus, who has worked for Sonoma County for more than two decades, should be charged in the killing, and Lopez’s parents have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. One demonstrator, identified as Ramon Cairo, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of punching an officer in the eye, Police Lt. Jerry Soares told the Press Democrat. A second officer was hit in the cheek by a protest sign, Soares said. The arrest prompted the crowd to march to the police station, where some demonstrators kicked the locked glass door of the station house.
Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Andy Lopez Organizing Group, told the paper that Gelhaus’s return was a slap in the face to the community.
“It shatters any hope for the time being that there’s going to be justice,” Rothenberg said.
Since October, there have been numerous protests and marches in Santa Rosa over the shooting — as well as threats against Gelhaus.
The deputy has now returned to work, though he is assigned to a desk job while prosecutors decide whether to file criminal charges against him.
The Santa Rosa police are still investigating the shooting, and a sheriff’s office internal review is being conducted.
The Press Democrat reports that Gelhaus’s lawyer, Terry Leoni, says he acted appropriately.
“Erick hasn’t committed any policy violation and he certainly hasn’t committed any criminal misconduct,” Leoni said. “The law allows officers to make these split second decisions when faced with a lethal threat.”