Infuriated when they heard that Erick Gelhaus, the Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez just seven weeks earlier was back on the job, protesters in Santa Rosa flooded city hall yesterday, bringing a meeting of the city council to a halt for 20 minutes.
Two protesters were placed under arrest, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported. See video of the protests below.
At a Santa Rosa County Board of Supervisors meeting, proceedings were briefly halted when a protester took the floor to question the board and refused to give up the microphone.
“You can cut off my mic, you can have the sheriffs pull me out of here — that's irrelevant,” Jonathan Melrod, of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez group told the frustrated supervisors. “We want to know why Gelhaus was returned to work!”
But Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas answered that question on Tuesday, saying that Gelhaus (pictured) was reinstated from his paid leave of absence because an internal review found that he did nothing to violate sheriff’s department policies when he shot Lopez seven times as the youth walked near his home in broad daylight on October 22.
The 48-year-old Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s department and a firearms expert who instructed other officers in their use, apparently panicked when he confused a BB gun that Lopez was carrying with a real rifle.
Though Duenas said that the department’s review of the deadly shooting was not yet finished, the fact that “there's nothing screaming at us that he violated any policy,” meant it was time to get Gelhaus back on the job.
“In good conscience, we can't just let him sit there,” Duenas said. “Our job is to get him back to work.”
At the Sonoma County Jail, where one of the arrested protesters was held, an angry crowd chanted and pounded, breaking the glass on one of the jailhouse’s front doors.
Gelhaus has reportedly passed a mental health screening, but he’ll be confined to desk duty when he arrives back at work.
One protester derided the deputy’s supposed penalty for killing Lopez as “two month’s paid vacation and a desk job.”
SOURCES: Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle