Dozens of protesters rallied at the Sonoma County Superior Court this afternoon to denounce District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s decision to not charge sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus with the murder of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in October. Sheriff’s deputies observed the 90-minute, peaceful rally from inside the entrance of the courthouse. Another protest is planned for Saturday at 1 p.m. in downtown Santa Rosa.
The crowd chanted “We say homicide, Ravitch says justified,” “Jailhouse for Gelhaus” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these killer cops have got to go.” Attorney Jonathan Melrod said the 52-page report on the Oct. 22 fatal shooting on Moorland Avenue “was written as if Ravitch was the defense counsel for Gelhaus.” “It was a whitewash to justify murder,” Melrod said. Melrod and other speakers ridiculed an assertion in the report by a marijuana expert, Dr. Reese Jones, that Lopez’s judgment was impaired and his decision-making was slowed because he smoked marijuana within 60-75 minutes of his death.
Jones, a Professor Emeritus at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said the effects of smoking marijuana would likely be more apparent when someone has to deal with the performance of sudden, unanticipated tasks, including decisions that called for a quick response. According to Ravitch’s report, Gelhaus twice told Lopez to drop what he believed was an AK-47 rifle, and Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times when the barrel of what was an air soft BB pellet gun rose upward as Lopez turned toward Gelhaus and Deputy Michael Schemmel who were taking cover behind the doors of their patrol car about 67 feet away from Lopez.
“There was erratic behavior on Oct. 22 and it was by Erick Gelhaus,” Melrod said. Mike Smith, of Sonoma, said it’s possible Lopez was impaired, but he said, “That’s no reason a kid should have been shot.” Yvette Felarca, of Oakland, a member of BAMN, By Any Means Necessary, a civil rights group, said Ravitch’s report, “blamed the victim.”
Felarca said Moorland Avenue neighbors saw Lopez “swinging the rifle in a carefree manner” and only Gelhaus thought the gun was real and feared for his life. Elijah Garcia, 14, and other speakers said Ravitch should leave her office and tell the protesters in person why she believes Gelhaus should not face murder charges. Garcia said even if Lopez’s judgment was impaired by marijuana, “Why would Gelhaus react that way and shoot him seven times?”
In the conclusion of her report, Ravitch called the shooting “absolutely tragic.” “The loss of this young life under these circumstances is a loss for all of us, and this community will forever be changed because of what happened that afternoon,” Ravitch said. But Gelhaus “honestly and reasonably believed” he was faced with a “do or die,” shoot or be shot dilemma, and using lethal force was “a reasonable response under the circumstances,” Ravitch said.
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