From [HERE] Sonoma County will pay $3 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a California teenager who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy while holding a pellet gun.
The settlement was approved unanimously Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors, bringing to a close a lawsuit filed in November 2013 by the family of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
Lopez was fatally shot by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus [racist suspect in photo], who was carrying a toy replica automatic rifle by its grip. At all times, the toy rifle was pointed towards the ground, with Lopez’s hand on the grip, away from the trigger. Deputy Gelhaus shot at Lopez eight times, hitting him seven times, from approximately 62 feet. There was evidence that the first shot may have disabled the youth by striking the upper arm of the hand holding the replica rifle’s grip.
Lopez was casually walking mid-afternoon near a city street. Deputies Gelhaus and Schemmel, on rou- tine patrol, saw Lopez. The deputies were not respond- ing to a call of criminal conduct or suspicious activity. They had no reason to think Lopez was a gang member or that he was engaged in criminal activity, except that he was holding, in his left hand, the grip of what appeared to be an assault rifle, pointed towards the ground. Lopez did not attempt to evade the deputies and nothing about his conduct was suspicious. Lopez was just walking along, minding his own business.
A witness got within approximately fifty feet of Andy, he slowed down to look at the gun. When he saw it, he thought ‘it look[ed] fake.’ . . . the witness did not fear for his life or call the police; he continued on his way.” “Another witness estimated that Andy was ‘11 or 12 years old,’ and de- scribed him as ‘the little guy,’ ‘no more than five feet.’ ”
Once or twice, Gelhaus yelled from behind, “Drop the gun,” “Put the gun down,” or something similar. He did not use the patrol car’s loudspeaker, certainly a more effective method for communicating with a suspect.
At his deposition, Gelhaus was asked to reenact how Andy was holding the gun, “his turning motion,” and “what you saw him do.” The video depicted the gun in Gelhaus’s fully- extended arm and at his side as he turns, consistently pointed straight down towards the ground.
As Lopez turned, Gelhaus shot eight times, with seven bullets hitting Lopez. The court explained Gelhaus shot Andy without having warned Andy that such force would be used, and without observing any aggressive behavior.
The 9th Circuit panel majority noted:
At the time of the shooting, Andy was standing next to an open field in a residential neighborhood. The site of the shooting is also close to three schools and the shooting occurred when school was out of session. There were no other people present at the shooting. There were a few individuals walking in the surrounding neighborhood. Andy had been walking in the general direction of several houses before Gelhaus shouted, and Gelhaus submits that he did not want to let Andy get near them.
After summarizing the facts, the Ninth Circuit panel concluded, “On these facts, a reasonable jury could conclude that Andy did not pose an ‘immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,’ George, 736 F.3d at 838 . . . and that Gelhaus’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable.” Further, “[T]he cases upon which Gelhaus relies to establish that his conduct was objectively reasonable involved threats to officers that were far more direct and immediate than that presented by Andy.”
Also, “Moreover, Gelhaus indisputably had time to issue a warning, but never notified Andy that he would be fired upon if he either turned or failed to drop the gun.” [MORE]
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano offered condolences to the Lopez family. He noted that Gelhaus was cleared of criminal wrongdoing but officials agreed the settlement was the best solution.
Gelhaus, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 2014 by District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office [racist suspect in photo].