Andy Lopez's family files claim against county, sheriff


Andy Lopez, 13, was carrying an air-soft gun that looked real, when the officer opened fire.

Deputy Erick Gelhaus' lawyer says he feels terrible about the loss of the young man, but believes he had no other option but to fire his weapon

First of all, ABC7 News has learned that the teen's family filed a claim Thursday against Sonoma County and the sheriff's office. The county has six months to either accept or reject it. If that happens, the family would most likely file a lawsuit.

The claimant is Andy Lopez's mother. The claim says the 13-year-old was killed unjustifiably and charges that the sheriff's office failed to develop adequate training policies for the use of lethal force. It does not specify an amount for damages.

Deputy Gelhaus has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.

"He feels for the loss of this young man's life," defense lawyer Terry 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."

Santa Rosa police are heading the investigation of the shooting. They now say it was only ten seconds between the time Gelhaus radioed the dispatcher and the time he fired the shots.

Gelhaus told his lawyer he fired when the boy turned, when the barrel of the toy rifle rose toward the deputies.

"So once the lethal threat was posed, once Deputy Gelhaus felt in fear of his life, for this safety, he had no other option but to use his firearm," Leoni said.

Barbara Attard is a police accountability expert. She says the investigation by Santa Rosa police and the district attorney is not enough.

"In every single department there should be some oversight of that department," Attard said. "There should be independent investigations of misconduct issues. There should be a way for the community to have input."

The FBI is also conducting its own investigation.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's office is also investigating a complaint by a motorist who claims Gelhaus pulled his gun on him during a traffic stop two months ago.

"He was absolutely stunned," said Santa Rosa resident Anastasiya Igntova.

Igntova says that's how her stepfather Jeff Westbrook reacted when he realized the deputy who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop two months ago was Erick Gelhaus, the same man who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.

"He realized that, you know if he shot a man, or you know a kid, there was a possibility that he could've shot him as well, so he was scared," she said.

Westbrook claims he was driving his BMW when Gelhaus pulled him over for a traffic stop and that during the encounter the deputy pulled out his gun twice.

Gelhaus' attorney said of the incident, "Based on Deputy Gelhaus' experience and training, he would never willy nilly pull out his gun. Only if there would be a need for it."

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