Brother of teen fatally shot by Sonoma Co. deputy speaks out

The brother of a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy last week is speaking out.
November 1, 2013 8:05:01 PM PDT
You're about to hear, for the first time, from the brother of the young teenage boy shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy.

Andy Lopez, 13, was walking down Moorland Avenue in Santa Rosa while holding a pellet gun that looked like an AK-47 when he was gunned down by Deputy Erick Gelhaus on Oct. 22.

The teen was shot seven times and died at the scene. The identity of the other deputy has not been released.

An all-faith prayer vigil is being held Friday night inside a church in Santa Rosa. They're talking about nurturing the entire community.

Earlier in the day, at the scene of the shooting, more people showed up to pay respect and add to the memorial. Some people say it needs to be more permanent, adding that it's that important.

Among the people who we spoke with Friday was Andy's older brother, 17-year-old Anthony.

The family has not spoken formally. He told us how they're dealing with this loss.

"They're hanging," he said. "It's really hard on everyone. The house isn't even the same anymore." When asked how so, Anthony answered, "It's just quiet, it feels like there's a void in the house."

Deputy Gelhaus has said he fired when the teen turned and pointed the look-alike gun at him. Anthony says that because the whole incident took place in just ten seconds, he thinks his brother, just a 13-year-old kid, probably froze and needed more time.

"It's shocking, really overwhelming, too much to take in at once," Anthony said. When asked what Andy would say, he answered, "He would say he wants justice."

Deputy Gelhaus has communicated only through his attorney Terry Leoni.

"He feels for the loss of this young man's life," Leoni said. "He feels for the loss of the family and for the community."

But Gelhaus' lawyer tells us it doesn't minimize the threat her client faced that day.

"An AK-47 with no indication, no markings it was a replica gun that was pointed in his direction," Leoni said. "Those weapons, they pierce body armor, they go right through patrol vehicles, and this was a residential neighborhood with homes all around. Deputy Gelhaus ordered one or two times for Mr. Lopez to drop his gun."

The attorney for the family of the teen will file a federal civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco Monday against Sonoma County and the sheriff's deputy.

The lawsuit in Federal District Court will allege the fatal shooting was without reasonable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Lopez family attorney Arnoldo Casillas said.

The complaint also will allege the shooting resulted in an unconstitutional custom and practice at the sheriff's office regarding the use of deadly force, Casillas said.

Lopez's parents Rodrigo Lopez and Sujey Cruz Casarez will attend a news conference at 1 p.m. in San Francisco on the findings of their investigation, the results of a private autopsy and the details of their son's life, Casillas said.

Casillas also filed three wrongful death claims on behalf of the boy's father and mother and the estate of Andy Lopez Cruz. The claims were received Thursday in Sonoma County.

The claims allege that as a result of the "intentional and/or negligent conduct" that caused the boy's death, the parents suffered "loss of financial support, gifts or benefits, funeral and burial expenses, the reasonable value of household services Andy would have provided and the loss of his love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support."

The three claims seek unspecified monetary damages.

The claim on behalf of Lopez's estate seeks damages, losses and the imposition of punitive damages "against the deputies that shot and killed him."

Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said the filing of the civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco makes the three wrongful death claims premature.

"The filing of the claims is not unusual," Goldstein said. "They are a little quick but not unexpected. The filing of a civil rights lawsuit before the criminal investigation (by the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments) is unusual. The lawsuit could interfere with the investigation."

According to Goldstein, the county has 45 days to respond to the three wrongful death claims.

He adds that the civil rights lawsuit, not the three wrongful death claims, will be the primary civil action regarding the wrongful death issues.

The three wrongful death claims state Andy Lopez was unarmed, posed no risk of threat to the deputies or others and was shot without cause or provocation.

The claims also allege the use of force was condoned by the sheriff's office.

"The sheriff's department's training encourages deputies to prematurely shoot suspects who pose no threat or danger to deputies or the public at large," the claims state.

It also is alleged the sheriff's office failed to develop and implement policies, procedures and training regarding the use of deadly force and proper tactics for pedestrian stops.

"As a result of the absences of these policies, procedures and training, the deputies involved in the underlying incident were not prepared to safely deal with the circumstances and improperly used unnecessary and unreasonable force against Andy Lopez Cruz," according to the claims.

The sheriff's office also is accused of negligently hiring and retaining the two deputies who "have had prior incidents of excessive force," and of failing to properly discipline them or terminate their employment. Both deputies are on paid administrative leave.

Goldstein said the allegations are "hyperbole that does a disservice to the dialog in the community that is trying to understand what happened."

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas would not comment on the allegations in the three wrongful death claims and he referred questions to the county counsel's office.

(Bay City News contributed to this report)


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