SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) – The parents of a 13-year-old boy slain by a Northern California sheriff’s deputy said they felt they lost their son again after prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the officer who mistook the teen’s pellet gun for an assault rifle.
The parents of Andy Lopez decried the decision announced Monday by the Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, calling it “impossible” to accept.
“This disheartening decision leaves the family feeling as though Andy had been killed again today,” Rodrigo Lopez and Sujay Cruz said in a statement released by their lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas.
After the announcement, about 100 protesters marched through the streets of Santa Rosa, where Lopez’s death aggravated racial tensions in his mostly Latino neighborhood in the city of about 170,000 people north of San Francisco.
The protesters focused on the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, and the district attorney they say gave him a pass.
“She’s giving permission to the deputies to kill our children and kill us – people in the community – and get a paid vacation and no repercussions,” Nicole Guerra, whose son was a close friend of Lopez’s, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Gelhaus fired multiple rounds in response to what he believed was an imminent threat of death, Ravitch said at a news conference. The district attorney displayed photographs of the pellet gun found next to Lopez and a real assault rifle to highlight similarities in appearance.
“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.”
Gelhaus shot Lopez on Oct. 22 as the teen walked near his home. The deputy told investigators he believed the gun was real and opened fire out of fear for his life.
Gelhaus fired his department-issued 9 mm handgun because Lopez turned toward him and began raising the pellet gun, Ravitch’s report said. At least one witness said he heard the deputy order Lopez to drop the pellet gun before shooting, she said.
He struck the eighth-grader seven times, and Lopez was declared dead at the scene.
Ravitch’s report disclosed that Lopez was likely feeling the effects of marijuana when he was killed, and a medical expert concluded the drug likely impaired the teen’s judgment. Ravitch cited autopsy results showing the teen had smoked marijuana about an hour before the shooting.
Investigators found a marijuana cigarette and eyedrops on Lopez’s body, the report said.
Casillas, the family’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to request for comment on the autopsy results.
The attorney 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 ask the court to restart the litigation.
Casillas said Monday that he will ask federal officials to investigate. The FBI said it is reviewing the shooting to determine if any civil rights violations occurred. The district attorney forwarded her report to federal investigators.
Ravitch said her office’s findings will not alleviate the pain felt by Lopez’s family or the community.
“This is a painful, painful chapter in the history of Sonoma County,” Ravitch said. “While it was absolutely a tragedy, it was not a criminal act.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.