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Gun Crazy

On the struggle for answers in the killing of Andy Lopez



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Rather than shield themselves from the public, Andy's parents, Sujey and Rodrigo Lopez, have been active in marches and vigils for their son, and have demanded that justice be served. If a wrongful death lawsuit were to be filed and evidence collected, it's likely they would push for its release.

Currently, audio recordings from dispatch continue to be withheld by the sheriff's department. With further details like post-incident interviews, witness accounts, depositions and the deputy's personnel records that could come from the "discovery phase" of the legal process, "I think a wrongful death suit would be appropriate, unless there is a complete disclosure of all the facts, and those facts clearly justify what the officers did," says Emery. "Frequently, the only way to obtain a thorough and detailed explanation of the facts is through a wrongful death suit."

While select facts on the investigation trickle out from the SRPD, the online background of deputy Erick Gelhaus is disappearing. Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran deputy who served in Iraq and led gang-prevention and narcotics efforts for the department, had no prior civilian shooting record before last week. An avid hunter and gun enthusiast, he served as senior firearms instructor for the sheriff's department and posted regularly to online gun forums, using his real name. While many of those posts have now disappeared, easily accessible cached pages show that Gelhaus made comments pertinent to the events of last week.

"Does anybody have or know of a location for an AK-47 nomenclature diagram?" he asked in April 2001.

In a 2008 article for S.W.A.T. magazine, Gelhaus wrote that law enforcement is a "contact sport," and he gives a warning to his trainees: "Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home."

In 2006, Gelhaus replied to a discussion about being threatened by someone with a BB or pellet gun, and it's indicative of his knowledge of the investigation process. "It's going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury," he wrote. "I think we keep coming back to this, articulation—your ability to explain why—will be quite significant."

Taken together, the posts show that Gelhaus was familiar with AK-47s, was prepared to kill somebody, and knew that should he ever shoot someone carrying a fake gun, the requirement to convey afterward that he feared for his life was paramount.

In a news conference last week, Lt. Paul Henry of the SRPD stated as much about Gelhaus' testimony after the shooting. "He was able, at least in interviews with us, to articulate that he was in fear of his life, the life of his partner, and the community members in the area. And that's why he responded in the way that he did."

PARENTS' LOSS Rodrigo and Sujey Lopez at a recent rally in Santa Rosa. - NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • PARENTS' LOSS Rodrigo and Sujey Lopez at a recent rally in Santa Rosa.

Ethan Oliver is the witness who first appeared in front of TV cameras to say that Erick Gelhaus continued to fire at Andy Lopez after the boy had fallen to the ground. Speaking in front of his house four days after the shooting, he reiterated what he saw from his front porch on Moorland Avenue.

Though the autopsy eventually bore out his statements about how many shots were fired, Oliver says that in the days following his statements on TV, he's been targeted by law enforcement.

"I've been harassed real bad over this," he says. "I've been arrested twice in one day, and then I just caught a bogus DUI for nothing because they said they had a report of a drunk driver, which wasn't the case. They saw me, and then they had six cops follow me. Six cops for a traffic stop. And then twice, they got me. The other one, you know, I kind of understand where their standpoint was on that, because I got pretty extensively verbally violent with them. But to me, it's still harassment."

Oliver also notes that the field where Lopez was shot is a common play area for kids with toy guns, where neighborhood children "play with their paint-ball guns all the time." Oliver's little brother often played with Lopez, a boy that Oliver describes as a "real good kid."

"He wanted to be a boxer, he wanted to do a lot of things. He was real friendly, real popular around the school," Oliver says, as dozens of mourners gather nearby around a candlelit shrine where Andy Lopez was killed. "To me, I really don't care [about being harassed]. Just as long as there's justice for this little boy and his family."

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

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