General Crime

Andy Lopez Shooting, Hundreds March to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to Protest

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Hundreds of people marched to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Santa Rosa this afternoon to protest the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff’s deputy last week. The crowd arrived shortly after 1 p.m. at the building, located at 2796 Ventura Ave. Barricades have been set up to block protesters from reaching the entrance. At least a dozen deputies wearing riot helmets were standing behind the barricade.

About 10 others were on the roof of the building, watching the crowd with binoculars. Another deputy was filming the protesters. The crowd was spread out through the parking lot in clusters, with some chanting, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” Part of the crowd that marched to the sheriff’s office gathered at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus at noon. Another group met at City Hall. Speakers at the junior college called for peace and invoked movements led by Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. “My name is Andy Lopez … We are all Andy,” one man told the crowd. Other protesters held a large sign bearing Andy’s photo and the message “Jail Killer Cop Erick Gelhaus.” Gelhaus, 48, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and a firearms training expert, shot Lopez seven times last Tuesday afternoon because he believed the teen had an AK-47 assault rifle.

It turned out the eighth-grader was actually carrying an airsoft BB gun. The shooting happened at about 3:15 p.m. at Moorland and West Robles avenues, southwest of Santa Rosa. A plastic handgun was later found in Lopez’s waistband. Santa Rosa police, who are investigating the shooting, said Gelhaus and another deputy reported afterward that when Andy turned toward them after they tried to get his attention, the barrel of the rifle rose toward them and they feared for their safety. The other deputy did not fire. Kelsey Young, a Santa Rosa Junior College student who stopped by today’s rally, noted that there is a lot of animosity going around. “I’m for Andy, not against anyone,” she said.

“It’s just a real shame that there’s a child that’s dead,” she said. “I don’t want to place blame on anybody, but there needs to be transparency and clarity from authorities, and also more care and education for children.” Fellow student Nick Perez said he had read about the shooting in the newspaper. “I found it really tragic and sad, and I understand why people are angry,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people are here, not just from Santa Rosa but from Oakland and all over California.” On Friday afternoon, protesters — mostly teen students — marched more than 2 miles from Santa Rosa City Hall to the sheriff’s office. Santa Rosa police said Monday that Friday’s march was peaceful but that some protesters brought replica weapons, which they said was dangerous and unnecessary.

“Our community will not tolerate violence or other violations of the law during demonstrations. Let’s work together to prevent further violence,” police said. The Sonoma County Administration Center closed at noon today because of the protest. Employees who remained were advised to move their cars away from the sheriff’s office. Sonoma County community and government affairs officer Peter Rumble advised the public to steer clear of the administration center.

Santa Rosa police advised drivers to expect traffic on Mendocino Avenue between downtown Santa Rosa and Bicentennial Way between noon and 5 p.m. A post on a “Justice for Andy Lopez” Facebook page encouraged students to leave their classes at 10 a.m. today. Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels released a statement Monday asking parents to encourage their children to stay in class, citing concerns about their safety. She said the protests are not student-driven but rather are organized and promoted by adults from outside of Santa Rosa.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. — Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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