Rally targets Sonoma County DA over teen's death

The Sonoma County District Attorney is the target of a protest over her investigation into the shooting death of a 13-year-old in Santa Rosa.
December 3, 2013 8:32:44 PM PST
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch is the target of a protest under pressure over her investigation into the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa. She held an election fundraiser on Tuesday night, but it didn't go quite as planned at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Ravitch had a few uninvited guests outside asking for an indictment in the Lopez case.

It seems that there is almost always someone at the Andy Lopez memorial in Santa Rosa during the day. Tuesday afternoon we spoke to protester Frank Saiz who was getting a head start on a rally against Ravitch.

"Let her know that if she does not do the necessary things, there is no vote from us..." said Saiz.

It's more pressure and another rally taking place. In a month and a half it has filled with them as Santa Rosa's Latino community questions how and why Sheriff's Dep. Erick Gelhaus pumped seven bullets into and through the 13-year-old as he mistook an AK-47 replica gun for a real one. To call it overkill, says protester Angelica Tercero, would be an understatement. She told us, "That police officer, that sheriff, was shooting at a body on the ground."

Meantime, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors discussed the case on Tuesday and moved toward putting lapel cameras on sheriff's deputies, among other measures.

"I think this board today committed to spending $250,000 for the cameras for the deputies, $350,000 to form a task force, another $75,000 for town hall meetings. I don't think over half a million dollars is lip service," said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

The board is also looking at purchasing the vacant lot where Lopez died and making it a park. They have already spoken to the owner.

"There has always been a park slated for that property. I have had some conversations with the property owner and he's open to conversation, open to a dialogue," said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

And probably a quieter dialogue than the public one we've seen for six weeks now between Sonoma County and its still angry Latino community.

Supes to appoint task force over officer-involved shooting

The 21-member task force's options include recommending a citizen review board, a police review/citizen oversight review board, a police review/citizen's appeal board or an independent citizen auditor.

In Sonoma County, a Grand Jury currently reviews the Sonoma County District Attorney's report on its investigation of officer-involved shootings. That report decides whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.

The Task Force also could retain the Grand Jury review process.

Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times within 10 seconds as the teen walked along Moorland Avenue in Santa Rosa with an airsoft BB gun that resembled an AK-47 rifle on Oct. 22.

According to Santa Rosa police who are investigating the fatal shooting, Gelhaus said he ordered Lopez to drop the gun, then shot him as the barrel of the BB gun rose as Lopez turned toward him.

There have been at least 9 marches and protests since the shooting. Protesters and community members have called for Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch to arrest and indict Gelhaus, and for an independent citizen's review of the shooting and Gelhaus' actions.

Lopez's family has filed a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County. The suit claims there exists an "unconstitutional custom and practice" at the sheriff's office regarding the deadly use of force.

Each of the five county supervisors will appoint three members to the Community and Law Enforcement Task Force. Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas will appoint three members, the Mayor of Santa Rosa will appoint two and the County District Attorney will appoint one member.

The Task Force's first recommendations are due in February 2014 and its final recommendations are due in December 2014.

Two weeks after the Lopez shooting, the Board of Supervisors held a lengthy discussion on community healing. The public comments at the hearing led to several recommendations, including the task force.

The task force also will consider options for community policing to be included in next year's budget, reviewing whether the office of the coroner should be separated from the sheriff's office, and informing the supervisors of any additional feedback from the community.

Other recommendations for the Board of Supervisors to consider are holding town hall meetings with "underserved communities" to discuss "inclusion, healing and disparity in services," supporting state and federal legislation on gun and replica weapon control.

Bay City News contributed to this report.


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