A Northern California sheriff’s deputy who shot a 13-year-old boy holding a replica AK-47 will not face criminal charges, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Monday.
Ravitch said the actions of Deputy Erick Gelhaus were “a reasonable response under the circumstances according to all of the evidence we have reviewed.”
The officer, a 24-year veteran of the police force, shot and killed Andy Lopez in October as the teen was walking down the street just outside of Santa Rosa, California.
Gelhaus and Michael Schemmel — a deputy in training — encountered the eighth-grader as he was walking to a friend’s house after school. The two deputies first saw Andy from the back as they approached him in their patrol car. They noticed him carrying the replica rifle at his side. Schemmel pulled the car over while Gelhaus jumped out of the vehicle and called for Andy to drop the weapon. Instead, the boy turned while raising his arm that held the gun.
Gelhaus fired at the teen eight times, missing him only once. Gelhaus was 67 feet away when the shots were fired. Andy died at the scene.
A subsequent investigation found that the replica AK-47 was a pellet gun. It did not have an orange-tipped barrel, as required by federal law, to help officers identify it as a replica.
Gelhaus’ attorney, Terry Leoni, praised Ravitich’s decision not to press criminal charges.
"He absolutely believed his life and the life of his partner were in mortal danger," Leoni told the San Francisco Chronicle. ”The D.A.'s office took the time to do a thorough investigation and it came to the right conclusion."
But the decision drew protests from many members of the community who said Gelhaus acted rashly and should be held accountable.
Jonathan Melrod, a human rights attorney and founder of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, said the shooting was part of a growing problem.
“This was a decision to condone the increasing militarization of the police," he said.
“He was shot because he was a kid carrying a toy gun where kids play,” Melrod told NBC-Bay Area. “The militarization of the police is evolving into 'us versus them.’”
Community organizer Nicole Guerra, whose son was a friend of Andy, said it was unfair 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,” she said. “He should have known that was a toy.”
Andy’s family has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that their son’s civil rights were violated. The FBI is investigating those allegations.