Erick Gelhaus, the Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez when he mistook his replica pellet rifle for an AK-47 assault rifle, is returning to patrol duty next week.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Cecile Focha confirmed Gelhaus’s return to duty “one day next week.” Gelhaus was placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the Oct. 22, 2013 shooting at Moorland and West Robles avenues just outside southwest Santa Rosa city limits.
On Dec. 10 Gelhaus returned to work in an “administrative capacity” at the sheriff’s Santa Rosa headquarters. Focha said it will be up to the duty sergeant each day to assign Gelhaus to one of the zones in unincorporated Sonoma County.
The decision to return Gelhaus to work outside the sheriff’s office’s building was reached by Sheriff Steve Freitas and administrative management, Focha said.
Community members, who have been protesting since the fatal shooting, plan to protest Gelhaus’ return to patrol work at 1 p.m. Saturday at the sheriff’s headquarters at 2796 Ventura Ave. in Santa Rosa.
Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez and 100,000 Poets For Change, called returning Gelhaus to patrol duties “a complete insult to people in the community”:
“It is completely lacking in sensitivity to put a man who has killed a child back into a patrol car. We don’t want this.”
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch investigated the shooting and on July 7 she announced criminal charges will not be filed against 48-year-old Gelhaus. Ravitch called the fatal shooting “absolutely tragic” but said Gelhaus’ actions were lawful.
Gelhaus told Santa Rosa Police Department investigators he ordered Lopez to drop what he believed was an assault rifle as the teen walked down Moorland Avenue, but the barrel of the gun rose as Lopez turned toward his patrol car.
Gelhaus said he feared for his life and the life of Deputy Michael Schemmel who did not fire his weapon. Lopez was hit by seven of the eight shots that Gelhaus fired and died at the scene.