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Gun Crazy

On the struggle for answers in the killing of Andy Lopez


  • Emily Horstman

Ten seconds.

Ten seconds is how long it takes to tie one's shoes, or to send a text. But for a sheriff's deputy last week, 10 seconds was all the time it took between calling in to report a suspect and then calling again to report the boy had been shot.

This is what we know about the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez from the deputy's perspective: that Lopez, wearing shorts and a blue hoodie, was seen by two deputies walking along Moorland Avenue holding an Airsoft gun made to look like an AK-47. That the orange tip, signifying it as fake, had been removed. That the lights of the deputies' car came on, that the boy, from behind, was told twice to "put the gun down." That as he moved to turn around and face the deputy, the barrel of the toy gun "was rising up and turning in his direction."

We know all too well what happened next: that deputy Erick Gelhaus fired at Andy Lopez eight times, striking him seven times, killing him on the spot.

What we know about the shooting of Andy Lopez from witnesses' perspectives is that Gelhaus kept firing after Andy Lopez hit the ground, according to a neighbor across the street. That he instructed Lopez to put the gun down from inside the vehicle, not outside, according to two women who were on the block. That after the deputy's door opened, it took only three to five seconds before shots were fired, according to another man in the neighborhood.

What we know from visiting the site on Moorland Avenue is that the location of the deputies' vehicle is still marked on the asphalt, very much behind where Andy Lopez was walking. That Gelhaus has stated he "couldn't recall" if he identified himself as law enforcement when he called out to drop the gun. That by the SRPD's own admission, Andy Lopez hadn't fully turned around to see who might be calling to him before he was struck with bullets. That according to the autopsy, he was struck, among other places, in the right hip and right buttock—from behind.

In the week since the shooting of Andy Lopez, more questions than answers have arisen from a community still in shock and still struggling with how a 13-year-old carrying a toy can be killed in plain daylight. "The public expects that the investigation will be thorough and transparent," said Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Frietas, in a prepared statement. "As sheriff, I will do all in my power to see that expectation is satisfied."

Likewise, the Santa Rosa Police Department and District Attorney Jill Ravitch have all promised thorough, transparent investigations into the incident. Additionally, after the incident timeline and preliminary autopsy results were released last week, the FBI announced it will conduct its own independent investigation into the shooting, taking all perspectives into account.

But the perspective that's missing is the one of Andy Lopez—and, tragically, the one person who can offer his perspective is no longer alive.

In marches, vigils and calls to action over the last week, the community has demanded—and deserves—a detailed explanation of what happened last week on Moorland Avenue. But in Sonoma County, detailed facts about officer-related shootings are often impossible to obtain.

Per longstanding protocol after officer-related shootings, the Andy Lopez shooting is being investigated internally by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and also by the Santa Rosa Police Department—ostensibly an independent, outside agency. But as many are quick to note, the close relationship and shared duties between these two departments negates any possibility of complete impartiality. Currently, the SRPD is being investigated by the sheriff for an incident earlier this month. How, people are correct to ask, can the SRPD be impartial to the sheriff? And how can the district attorney, a sworn representative of law enforcement, also be impartial in its own analysis?

March and rally for Andy Lopez on Oct. 25, 2013

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