crimesider

No charges against deputy who killed boy carrying pellet gun

Andy Lopez, 13, was carrying a pellet gun when he was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy. Family photo/CBS San Francisco

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Prosecutors said Monday they will not file criminal charges against a Northern California sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun he mistook for an assault rifle.

The parents of Andy Lopez decried the decision, saying "it is impossible" to accept and they felt as though their son "had been killed again."

The teen's death last year heightened racial tensions in a mostly Latino neighborhood of Santa Rosa, a city of about 170,000 residents around 50 miles north of San Francisco. The shooting parked protests and criticism that the officer acted too quickly.

Deputy Erick Gelhaus fired multiple rounds in response to what he believed was an imminent threat of death, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced at a news conference.

"While in the lawful performance of his duty, Deputy Gelhaus was faced with a highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving situation," Ravitch said. "He believed honestly and reasonably that he was faced with a do-or-die dilemma."

Ravitch displayed photographs of the pellet gun found next to Lopez and a real assault rifle to highlight similarities in appearance.

Gelhaus shot Lopez on Oct. 22 as the teen walked near his home with the pellet gun. The deputy told investigators he believed the gun was real and opened fire out of fear for his life.

At least one witness said he heard the deputy order Lopez to drop the pellet gun before shooting, Ravitch said.

Gelhaus fired eight times, striking the eighth-grader seven times with his department-issued 9 mm handgun. The district attorney said Gelhaus had 18 rounds in his gun and stopped shooting when he felt the threat had ended. Lopez was declared dead at the scene.

"This disheartening decision leaves the family feeling as though Andy had been killed again today," Lopez parents said in a prepared statement released by their lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas.

Casillas represents the family in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco against the county and Gelhaus, which has been on hold pending the outcome of the district attorney's investigation. Casillas said he will petition the court to restart the litigation.

Casillas said "it is impossible" to accept Ravitch's conclusions and that he and the family are asking federal officials to investigate.

The FBI said it is looking into the shooting to determine if any civil rights violations occurred. The district attorney forwarded her report to federal investigators.

FBI agent Brian Weber said investigators have "collected and reviewed documents and other evidence produced in connection with this matter and is working with the United States Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C." Weber declined further comment.

About a dozen protesters were gathered outside the building where Ravitch disclosed the results of her review.

Human rights attorney Jonathan Melrod told CBS San Francisco that Lopez "was shot because he was a kid carrying a toy gun where kids play."

"The militarization of the police is evolving into 'us versus them,'" Melrod said. "They're policing us as if they were still in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Community organizer Nicole Guerra, whose son was Lopez's friend, told the station it is ridiculous that "police can use the excuse they were in fear of their lives."

"Kids are in fear because they know cops can get away with it," Guerra said. "He should have known that was a toy."

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