Police Abuse

Not Charged: Cop Who Killed 13 Year Old Because the Kid Had a Pellet Gun

What comes of a shoot-first approach to law enforcement.


kallerna / Wikimedia Commons

California prosecutors have decided not to pursue charges against Erick Gelhaus, the sheriff who fired eight shots at a 13-year-old boy he believed was armed, killing him on the spot. The kid, Andy Lopez, was actually carrying a mere pellet gun.

The Lopez parents are furious with the lack of criminal charges, according to the Associated Press:

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."

The teen's death last year heightened racial tensions in a mostly Latino neighborhood of Santa Rosa, a city of about 170,000 residents around 50 miles north of San Francisco. The shooting parked protests and criticism that the officer acted too quickly.

In fairness to the sheriff, the pellet gun apparently resembled a real gun:

Deputy Erick Gelhaus fired multiple rounds in response to what he believed was an imminent threat of death, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced at a news conference.

"While in the lawful performance of his duty, Deputy Gelhaus was faced with a highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving situation," Ravitch said. "He believed honestly and reasonably that he was faced with a do-or-die dilemma."

Ravitch displayed photographs of the pellet gun found next to Lopez and a real assault rifle to highlight similarities in appearance.

Gelhaus shot Lopez on Oct. 22 as the teen walked near his home with the pellet gun. The deputy told investigators he believed the gun was real and opened fire out of fear for his life.

Gelhaus was wrong, of course. And a kid who hadn't done anything remotely criminal died because of the sheriff's shoot-first approach to local law enforcement.