Santa Rosa police released more details today in response to persistent questions about the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in southwest Santa Rosa last week. Deputy Erick Gelhaus and another unnamed deputy were on patrol when they saw Lopez walking along Moorland Avenue. Gelhaus was riding in the passenger seat, Lt. Paul Henry said. Henry said a witness who was in the area heard Gelhaus, 48, twice order Lopez to drop what he believed was an AK-47 rifle as the eighth grader walked along Moorland Avenue at 3:14 p.m. on Oct. 22.
Henry said Gelhaus said he knows he yelled at least once to Lopez to drop the rifle, but Gelhaus said he is unsure whether he identified himself as a sheriff’s deputy. The hood was down on the sweatshirt Lopez was wearing and he was not wearing headphones or earbuds, Henry said. Because only Gelhaus shot at Lopez, one persistent question has been why the other deputy did not. By the time the deputy who was driving was able to pull across the intersection at West Robles Avenue and into the oncoming lane of Moorland Avenue, Gelhaus had already begun shooting at Lopez, Henry said.
“By the time the second deputy got out of the car, the subject was engaged and the threat was neutralized,” Henry said. It’s possible Gelhaus got out of the patrol car before it completely stopped, Henry said today. Both deputies took cover behind the front doors of the patrol car. Police said last week Gelhaus shot Lopez because he feared for his life, the other deputy’s life and the lives of others who were in the area. Gelhaus shot Lopez when the barrel of the rifle raised up as Lopez turned toward the officers, Henry said last week. Seven of the eight bullets Gelhaus fired within 10 seconds struck Lopez, and two of the wounds were fatal, police said last week. The patrol car was not equipped with audio or video recording, Henry said this afternoon.
After the shooting, Gelhaus handcuffed Lopez and moved away the rifle and a plastic toy handgun that was found in Lopez’s waistband, Henry said. Gelhaus then performed CPR but Lopez died at the scene. Gelhaus became concerned the rifle was not an actual AK-47 when he got a closer look at it and felt its weight as he moved it away from Lopez, Henry said today. Last week police said the gun turned out to be an airsoft rifle that resembled an AK-47 but fired plastic BBs. This afternoon Henry said he did not know the specific make and model of the toy gun and whether it ran on batteries because it has been placed in evidence. Henry also said a witness said he was driving in front of the sheriff’s deputies’ car and shouted at Lopez to put away the gun because police were coming.
Henry said he does not know how many witnesses have been interviewed or how many people were in the area when Lopez was shot. Hundreds of people attended a funeral mass for Lopez Tuesday evening at the Resurrection Church in Santa Rosa. There have been protest marches and vigils, including one this evening, and calls for Gelhaus to be arrested since Lopez died. Both deputies are on paid administrative leave. Gelhaus is a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and firearms training expert and the unnamed deputy, who was hired about a month ago, has 11 years of law enforcement experience. The Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments, the FBI and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office are conducting investigations.
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