California cop spared charges in mistaken killing of boy with toy gun

LOS ANGELES Mon Jul 7, 2014 11:07pm EDT

Hundreds of protesters march towards the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office to demand justice for Andy Lopez Cruz in Santa Rosa, California October 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Noah Berger

Hundreds of protesters march towards the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office to demand justice for Andy Lopez Cruz in Santa Rosa, California October 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Noah Berger

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Northern California prosecutors have decided against bringing criminal charges against a sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a plastic replica of an assault rifle that the officer mistook for a real gun.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office concluded in a report unveiled on Monday that deputy Erick Gelhaus "honestly and reasonably" believed he faced an imminent of threat of death or serious bodily harm to himself or others when he shot the youth, Andy Lopez, last October.

The eighth-grader, clad in a hooded sweatshirt, was walking near his home on the way to a friend's house in the wine-country town of Santa Rosa when Gelhaus and his partner spotted the boy from their patrol car carrying what appeared to be an AK-47.

The deputies stopped their car and ordered Andy to drop the gun, but as the youth turned toward the officers, Gelhaus saw the rifle barrel rise upward and he fired eight shots at the boy, according to police accounts of an incident that unfolded in a matter of seconds.

The gun in question turned out to be an imitation AK-47 capable of shooting pellets or BBs, investigators said. The orange tip of the barrel designed to distinguish the replica from a real gun had been broken off.

But Gelhaus, a veteran officer and firearms instructor with nearly 20 years of experience in the U.S. military, believed at the time that he faced a "do or die" situation and responded accordingly, the prosecutor's report said.

"Here the implementation of lethal force was a reasonable response under the circumstances," the 52-page concluded. "Therefore, the actions of Deputy Gelhaus were lawful and no criminal charges will be filed against him at this time."

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said that before releasing the findings of her investigation she contacted California Attorney General Kamala Harris to determine whether her office intended to conduct its own review of the case and that Harris has declined to do so.

The FBI launched its own inquiry into the shooting last October and Ravitch said her office's report would be forwarded to federal investigators as their probe continues.

The boy's parents also have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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Comments (6)
Barbd wrote:
this ain’t gonna end well-

Jul 07, 2014 11:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ruffsoft wrote:
The glorification of guns by the gun lobby and a sizable minority of US citizens is responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year.

Since 9/11, 400,000 Americans have died by firearms.

The idea of using guns as “toys” makes me cringe. When I see parents buying a toy gun for their 6 yr old, (or a real rifle for their 12 yr old), it makes me want to take out my concealed Glock and teach them a lesson.

If a police officer can unload 8 shots and kill a 13 yr old, why can’t he shoot the gun out of the kid’s hands or just shoot his arm?

Police culture is part of the problem.

I will summarize in one word: sickening.

Jul 07, 2014 11:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
elocutionist wrote:
There is no safe way to be a minority and own a gun. You can die trying. For example, near the border, cops see a toy-toting Hispanic and think, “drug runner”, “gangster”, etc. So even a tyke who nonchalantely waves a plastic gun around will scare the crap out cops– thus they bristle, get nervous, jump to conclusions, and make irrational decisions. Had the kid been white, they might have stayed calm, allowing them to come to the right decision. It should be clear to everyone on earth that they did not.

Jul 07, 2014 12:33am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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