Officials to hear recommendations from task force in Andy Lopez death

Bay City News
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Andy Lopez.
A Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- A 21-member task force formed after the fatal shooting of Andy Lopez, 16, by Sonoma County sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus in October 2013 is presenting its final recommendations to the county's Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon regarding establishing civilian review of law enforcement.

The 700-page report by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, comprised of three sub-committees, comes after 18 months of meetings.

Formed in December 2013, the task force was charged by the Board of Supervisors with reviewing options for a model of an independent citizen review of law enforcement, recommending whether the county coroner's office should be separated from the sheriff's office, and informing the board of additional feedback on community oversight of law enforcement practices.

The task force has recommended establishing an independent office of civilian oversight based on an auditor model, as well as separating the coroner's office from the sheriff's office, improving critical incident response and community outreach and engagement, revising use of force policies and practices, improving hiring and training processes and revising the county's body-worn camera policy, among other recommendations.

The task force concluded a civil grand jury is not feasible as an oversight body, and it approved an interim recommendation that Gelhaus be removed from patrol duty.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas has publicly opposed removing Gelhaus from patrol duty and separating the coroner's office from the sheriff's office.

Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times on Oct. 22, 2013, as the teen was walking down Moorland Avenue with a pellet rifle that did not have an orange tip that would distinguish it from an assault rifle.

Gelhaus told Santa Rosa police, who investigated the fatal shooting, that he ordered Lopez to drop what he believed was an assault rifle, and the barrel of the rifle rose as Lopez turned toward the sheriff's patrol car.

There were months of protests and rallies calling for Gelhaus to be fired and charged with murder. Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch issued a 52-page report in July 2014 that concluded Gelhaus acted lawfully and that her office would not file criminal charges against him.

Lopez's family has filed a civil wrongful death suit against the county and the sheriff's office.

The Board of Supervisors will hear the task force's presentation of the report Monday afternoon and direct county staff to return in four months with timelines, budget estimates and strategies to implement the recommendations.