Sonoma County Deputy Erick Gelhaus cleared in shooting of Andy Lopez

So, the California criminal case of Sonoma County Deputy Erick Gelhaus’ shooting Andy Lopez has been resolved, as the DA has declined charges against Gelhaus.

“Prosecutors said Monday they will not file criminal charges against a Northern California sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun he mistook for an assault rifle. The parents of Andy Lopez decried the decision, saying “it is impossible” to accept and they felt as though their son “had been killed again.”

Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez on Oct. 22 as the teen walked in a Santa Rosa neighborhood with the pellet gun. The deputy told investigators he believed the gun was real and opened fire out of fear for his life.

 

Gelhaus fired eight times, striking the eighth-grader seven times with his department-issued 9 mm handgun. The district attorney said Gelhaus had 18 rounds in his gun and stopped shooting when he felt the threat had ended. Lopez was declared dead at the scene.” – via http://www.policeone.com/officer-shootings/articles/7355600-No-charges-for-deputy-who-killed-teen-carrying-replica/

The FBI is still looking into possible Civil Rights violations, and the family will sue. So this is far from over. But let’s look at why Deputy Gelhaus was not charged, even though there was tremendous political pressure.

Graham V Connor (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=490&invol=386) states that police use of force must be reasonable given the circumstances available to the officer at the time the trigger is pulled. The Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” inquiry is whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397.

Monday morning quarterbacking may show different circumstance, but THE OFFICER IS JUDGED ONLY ON THE FACTS AVAILABLE TO THE OFFICER AT THE TIME. When the trigger was pulled, Deputy Gelhaus had an “armed individual refusing multiple lawful orders to comply”. That is what Gelhaus saw, and that is what Gelhaus had a split second to react to. The facts uncovered during the subsequent months long investigation are real vent to the case, but not to the issue of the reasonableness of the use of force.

So was this tragic? Yes. Do police want to kill people? No. Was the suspect in control of the amount of force used? Yes. Did the suspects actions (whether or not he intended) cause the officer to feel threatened? Yes.

The family wants answers. I would too. I would want answers to questions like “why did my son purposefully remove the mandated orange tip on the replica rifle and the replica pistol he was carrying?” “Why was my 13 year old son high on marijuana, and in possession of marijuana at the time of his death?” “Why was my son not in school at 3:12pm when the school let out at 3:30?”

Perhaps the parents don’t want to ask those types of questions. 13 year olds are just kids. They make poor decisions sometimes. It is up to the parents to teach right from wrong. This is tragic for all parties involved.

-Jason