Deputy's fatal shooting of boy carrying fake rifle ruled lawful

Monday, July 7, 2014 - 6:33pm

A sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old California boy last year when he mistook a toy gun for a real rifle did not break the law, a prosecutor said Monday.

The investigation concluded that since Deputy Erick Gelhaus "honestly and reasonably believed" his life was in danger, the shooting of Andy Lopez was "lawful self-defense," said Sonoma County, California, District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

The Sonoma County deputy said he thought Lopez was armed with an AK-47, but it was actually a replica. Gelhaus said that when he yelled at the boy, whose back was turned to him, to put the weapon down, the boy turned toward him, according to a sheriff's statement issued after the October 22, 2013, shooting in Santa Rosa, California.

As Lopez turned "toward him, the barrel of the assault rifle was rising up and turning in his direction," the statement said. "The deputy feared for his safety, the safety of his partner, and the safety of the community members in the area."

Ravitch displayed a photo of the plastic replica next to a real AK-47 assault rifle to demonstrate to reporters why she decided not to prosecute the deputy.

Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, which was formed in the wake of the shooting, called for supporters to gather in Santa Rosa on Monday afternoon to protest the decision.

"It's ridiculous that these cops can be on our streets and think it's OK to use the excuse that they feared for their life when they kill our children, when they kill our youth, when they kill anybody," Lopez supporter Nicole Guerra said after the announcement. "These kids now have to walk around in fear because they know that these cops can get away with murder."

An autopsy report said the boy died of seven bullet wounds to the chest and right hip.

Family friend Gabriel Roque said in an interview with CNN affiliate KGO last October that Lopez "was a 13-year-old boy who was no harm to anybody."

"This was not a grown man walking down the street with a gun," she told the affiliate. "He was a 13-year-old little boy. You could just tell him to put it down."

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