Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano Tuesday afternoon said he hopes the $3 million settlement in an excessive use of force lawsuit regarding a deputy’s fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy will help bring healing to the teen’s family and the community.
Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Andy Lopez seven times on Oct. 22, 2013, as Lopez walked down Moorland Avenue south of Santa Rosa with a pellet gun that was designed to look like an AK-47 rifle.
Gelhaus said he believed the gun was real and the barrel of the pellet rifle rose upward as Lopez turned toward him when he told him to drop the rifle.
“It’s been a difficult road for the Lopez family, the sheriff’s office, the community and the deputy. The bottom line is a 13-year-old died.”
“The deputy was cleared of all wrongdoing and I understand why he did what he did. The sad part is people across the nation are hurt or killed because of fake weapons. Don’t buy them, and if you have them, get rid of them.”
The excessive force lawsuit Lopez’s family filed against the county and Gelhaus alleged Gelhaus violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and seizure by using excessive force. The county and Gelhaus claimed his use of force was reasonable under the circumstances.
The trial was scheduled to begin this summer in federal court in San Francisco.
County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said the plaintiffs and defendants agreed to a settlement rather than risk a trial and the settlement was best for all parties involved. The county did not admit liability or wrongdoing, Goldstein said.
Giordano, who finishes his term as sheriff this month, said since the Lopez shooting, the sheriff’s office has adopted more realistic training that includes a simulator of similar situations. Giordano said there is no way to de-escalate a deadly threat with a weapon that fires as quickly as an assault rifle.
“Sadly, there will be another replica weapon shooting in this country.”
Efforts to ban the sale of fake guns are not working and society has to buy into a ban and do it themselves, Giordano said.
The sheriff’s office also improved community engagement programs and its communication in person and on social media after the Lopez shooting, Giordano said.
The Lopez family’s attorney Arnoldo Casillas did not return emails or phone calls for comment.