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Family of boy killed by Sonoma County sheriff's deputy files claim

October 31, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts
  • Friends of Andy Lopez carry his coffin into Resurrection Parish during his funeral ceremony in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Lopez was shot by a Sonoma County deputy who authorities say mistook a pellet gun Lopez was carrying for an assault rifle.
Friends of Andy Lopez carry his coffin into Resurrection Parish during… (Conner Jay / Associated…)

The mother of a 13-year-old boy killed last week by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy while carrying a pellet gun that resembled an assault rifle has filed a claim against the county and the sheriff's office.

Sujey Cruz Casarez filed a claim Thursday with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors saying her son, Andy Lopez, was unjustifiably killed and that the sheriff's office did not develop adequate training policies for using deadly force, KGO-TV reported.

The claim does not specify an amount for damages, KGO reported. The county has six months to accept or reject the claim.

Lopez, a Santa Rosa eighth-grader, was shot Oct. 22 by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, sheriff's officials said. Gelhaus, 48, is a firearms expert, Iraq war veteran and a contributor to online forums dealing with guns and police use of force, officials said.

Gelhaus fired eight rounds, striking the boy seven times, investigators said. Two of the rounds that struck Lopez were fatal, an autopsy determined.

About 3:15 p.m. Oct. 22, Gelhaus and another deputy, a trainee, drove up behind Lopez about a half mile from the boy's home in Santa Rosa.

According to Santa Rosa police, 10 seconds later -- after the deputies had reported a suspicious person to dispatchers, radioed for backup and issued orders to the boy to drop his weapon -- Gelhaus opened fire when he saw Lopez, whose back was to the deputies, begin to turn toward him, the barrel of the pellet gun rising, authorities said. The deputy mistook the BB gun for an assault rifle, investigators said.

Gelhaus and the other deputy, whose name has not been released, have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Gelhaus "feels for the loss of this young man's life," defense attorney Terry Leoni told KGO-TV. "He feels for the loss of the family and for the community."

Gelhaus, though, feared for his life that day, Leoni said.

"An AK-47 with no indication, no markings it was a replica gun that was pointed in his direction ... those weapons, they pierce body armor, they go right through patrol vehicles," Leoni told the TV station.

The FBI also is investigating the shooting.


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