SANTA ROSA, CA — An innocent boy faced a deadly encounter with police when they thought he was exercising the right to bear arms. Deputies shot the young teen several times because they thought he was holding an “assault weapon” — something that the government elites believe they have the exclusive right to carry. It turned out that he was only holding a phony plastic toy. The eighth grader was pronounced dead in a grassy field that he was crossing on his way home.
At about 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22, Andy Lopez, age 13, was walking home from playing with his friends. He and his buddies liked to play with air-powered pellet guns, and he was carrying one he had borrowed.
As Andy journeyed home, he was spotted by two hoplophobic predators employed by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. They spotted what he was carrying: an apparent rifle.
Themselves armed to the teeth, the deputies moved in with their tax-subsidized vehicle to enforce some life-destroying, unconstitutional gun control measures.
The deputies called for backup and allegedly ordered Andy to drop his gun as he walked through a field of dry grass.
“At some point immediately thereafter, the deputies fired several rounds from their handguns at the subject, striking him several times,” Lt. Dennis O’Leary later described. The boy fell to the ground, he said, and “landed on top of the rifle he was carrying.”
Deputies leapt on top of the boy and handcuffed him. Shot 7 times, Andy was unresponsive, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
“First I heard a single siren and within seconds I heard seven shots go off, sounded like a nail gun, is what I thought it was,” said Brian Zastrow, a neighboring resident, to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “After that I heard multiple sirens.”
Predictably, police claimed that Andy turned toward them and aimed his rifle at officers. The Press Democrat reported the police version of the story:
The veteran deputy, one of the department’s training officers, told investigators that after he ordered the boy to drop the gun, Lopez began turning toward him and raised the gun’s barrel in his direction, police officials said.
It would seem only natural that Andy would have “turned toward” men who were shouting at him from behind. The boy didn’t stand a chance.
Police later described the toy as a “replica of an assault weapon” with a large ammunition magazine — very scary sounding. In a twisted double-standard, anyone seen carrying a firearm in California is subject to certain harassment and possible death; that is, unless they are employed by the police. The privileged caste can parade around carrying real assault weapons, donning badges, and terrorizing anyone who dares to exercise one of America’s most fundamental freedoms.
A toy pistol was placed at his memorial, tied in a red bow, as his friends and family gathered.
One of Andy’s friends, Gabriel Roque, said, “I’m devastated. There’s a difference between a cold-hearted killer walking down the street with a gun than a little kid walking down the street with a BB gun. There’s something wrong.” His mother called the deputies “trigger happy.”
“He was a great boy and I treated him like he was my son,” said grief-stricken family friend Alma Galvan. “Why did they have to kill him?”
Andy liked to play basketball and play the trumpet. “Andy was a very loved student, a very popular, very handsome young man, very smart and capable,” said assistant principal Linsey Gannon of Lawrence Cook Middle School. “Our community has been rocked by his loss.”
“Why did they kill him?” cried Andy’s mother, Sujey Annel Cruz Cazarez. “Why??”
Its a fact that every single encounter with the police — big or small — can result in life-changing outcomes or death. From a traffic stop to a wellness check, interacting with the government is inherently dangerous. Any flinch on the part of the civilian could be perceived to be a threat. Failure to react to the demands of police could provoke deadly consequences. Being armed or challenging their authority could result in a death sentence. Its impossible to know whether one is being stopped by Officer Friendly or Judge Dredd.
The solution is to minimize interactions between government and citizens. Had the boy been left to walk home in peace, he’d still be alive today. In a free society, police interactions would be limited to cases of violence or victimization. And no, walking home with an arbitrary tool or object is not tantamount to committing violence.
In a free society, people would be allowed to carry a firearm (even a real one) openly without teams of hypocritical bullies accosting them. The right to keep and bear arms would be respected; storing and carrying their property in a manner they so choose, without government permission and harassment.
In fact, “open carry” of firearms is legal in the majority of U.S. states. California has some of the most draconian gun control laws in the nation. Unfortunately, once again, a life has been ruined because of “common sense” regulations that naive statists have eagerly embraced.
Andy should have been left alone. How many more have to die because of gun control zealots and their efforts to “keep us safe”?
Meet the Shooter
Gelhaus is a 24-year veteran of the department, an Iraq combat veteran, a firearms instructor, and a prolific writer and commenter on the internet. He served in the Army National Guard from 2004 to 2010, and testified about dealing with insurgents in Iraq. He advocates an aggressive, combat-like view of law enforcement.
He participates as a moderator on The Firing Line, an online forum for gun enthusiasts hosted by S.W.A.T. Magazine. There, Gelhaus uses his real name and gives his opinions about a wide variety of law enforcement topics, touting his experience in combat.
He wrote for S.W.A.T. in 2008 that among the things he tells his trainees early on is that “Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home.”
“If you cannot turn on the ‘Mean Gene’ for yourself, who will?” he wrote. “If you find yourself in an ambush, in the kill zone, you need to turn on that mean gene.”
Gelhaus writes that he is able to survive the “kill zone” by thinking of his family. He says that he summons his “mean genes” in order to make split-second decisions while dealing with insurgents — in this case, children in residential California.
The deputy describes the job as his “calling” and loves participating in the “contact sport” of law enforcing.
He’s given verbose details about how to react in self-defense situations (using that term loosely here). Prior to the killing of Andy Lopez, Gelhaus wrote about how to handle the aftermath of killing a person with a BB-gun. The Press Democrat reported:
In one revealing thread, forum members debated whether the use of force is justified if someone brandishes or fires a BB gun at another person.
Gelhaus chimed in, writing that “It’s going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury.”
“I think we keep coming back to this, articulation — your ability to explain why — will be quite significant,” Gelhaus wrote.
Gelhaus clearly knows the drill. When shooting another person, no matter what the situation, one must convincingly articulate how much fear was felt during the time in the kill zone. Whether those fears were honest and reasonable is anybody’s guess.
Let’s be clear: There are situations when a person holding a toy gun could be viewed to be a deadly threat. If an individual on the street actually points a perceived weapon at someone else, self-defense could be warranted by any reasonable standard. The situation becomes very volatile when cops are paid to get confrontational with people who have literally done nothing except walk down the street with an item that scares them. The innocent blood lies on the hands of the gun controllers and the enforcers who perpetuate gun control.
UPDATE (12/11/2013): Gelhaus Returns to Desk Duty
Deputy Erick Gelhaus has been cleared to return to work, the department announced. He will remain in an administrative capacity (i.e. desk duty) for a time until he again released to patrol duty again. The Press Democrat reported some initial reaction:
“This is very, very, very bad news,” said Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Andy Lopez Organizing Group. “A large part of Sonoma County think of Gelhaus as a murderer. They think he’s dangerous. And we’ve seen through investigation that he’s had problems out on the street.”
Rothenberg said the act of putting Gelhaus back on duty, even at a desk job, would likely bring large crowds of young people back to the streets. The number of people participating in marches and rallies has slowly decreased in recent weeks. Rothenberg called the move “a slap in the face” to a community that has been reeling over the death of the boy.
“It shatters any hope for the time being that there’s going to be justice,” he said.
The community did not take well to the news of Gelhaus returning to the department. On Tuesday, Dec. 10th, crowds gathered around the Sonoma City Council meeting and caused it to be halted for around 20 minutes. Protesters carried signs saying “Wanted For Murder” and carried symbolic crosses for Andy Lopez and other victims of the local police. One protester said Gelhaus had received “two months paid vacation and a desk job.” Police in riot gear were deployed around the protesters. Two people were arrested.
In the meeting, Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas confirmed that Gelhaus would probably not face any legal or departmental ramifications. “We’re not talking about guilt or innocence; we’re talking about policy,” Dueñas said about the sheriff’s review. “Was deadly force used? Did he follow deadly force policy? Right now, there’s nothing screaming at us that he violated any policy.”
UPDATE (7/7/2014): No Charges Filed
District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced that she would definitely not be filing criminal charges against Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
“While this was an absolute tragedy it was not a criminal act,” Ravitch said. In practical terms, police in Sonoma County can open fire on anyone with a firearm — real or a toy — regardless of their intentions.
Crowds of protesters expressed their disappointment, blasting the sheriff’s office with megaphones following the press conference. They held signs with messages decrying “murder,” “thug cops,” and “cops on a killing spree.”
UPDATE (8/18/2014): Gelhaus Returns to Patrol
Officer Erick Gelhaus begins “proudly” patrolling the streets again this week, armed with his badge and gun, fresh off of a nearly 10-month subsidized break following the shooting of Andy Lopez.
Gelhaus’s return to work has shocked many; not only for the fact that the department’s refusal to fire him, but also because the community has loudly rejected him after numerous protests demanding his termination. Evidently, community input holds little value in the eyes of those who protect and serve in Sonoma County.
Tell the department to leave open-carriers alone and clean up their trigger-happy ranks.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department
Phone Directory: Contact Us
Questions re: ongoing investigation contact Lieutenant Paul Henry: 707-543-3668.
Questions re: administrative process contact Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas: 707-565-2781.