Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch released a long-awaited decision Monday that the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, on Oct. 22, 2013, was not cause for criminal charges against Erik Gelhaus, the Sheriff’s deputy who killed the boy as he carried a toy replica of an AK-47 assault rifle on a Santa Rosa sidewalk.
Ravitch announced in a prematurely distributed press release that no criminal charges will be filed against Deputy Gelhaus, a weapons expert who fired seven shots into the boy as he carried an airsoft BB gun looking almost identical to the real thing. The distinctive orange tip required by law to be on the end of the barrel of a replica toy gun was reportedly missing when Lopez was shot.
Ravitch held a 2 p.m. press conference in Santa Rosa to make the announcement, but news media received an email about the event hours earlier with an incomplete press release revealing the decision inadvertently attached to the email. Minutes later, news outlets received a second email asking to “recall” the press release.
At the press conference, Ravitch said a 52-page synopsis of the District Attorney’s Report to the Sonoma County Grand Jury, outlining the lengthy investigation, along with the reasons for the decision not to file charges, was released. Ravitch said the report concludes that Gelhaus “fired his weapon in response to what he honestly and reasonably believed was an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or others. As such, he was lawfully acting in defense of himself or others, and no basis for seeking criminal charges exists.”
Ravitch acknowledged that the finding will not alleviate the pain felt by the Lopez family, those involved in the tragedy, or the community. “It is incumbent upon us to move forward to address the many layers of concern uncovered by this tragedy, and work together to rebuild trust and support for all members of this community,” she said in the press release.
She added, “We conducted an exhaustive and thorough investigation and review, retained numerous expert witnesses, and considered every interpretation of the facts and evidence in our analysis. Consistent with the transparency I promised, I am releasing to the public today a synopsis of our Grand Jury report with redactions to ensure individual privacy. This is the first time a report as detailed as this has been made public in Sonoma County. Ultimately, the role of my office in this tragedy is quite limited – to a determination regarding criminal liability. Police tactics, training, and civil liability are not matters to be addressed by our office or this report.”
Under standard protocol for an officer-involved shooting, a separate law enforcement agency, in this case the Santa Rosa Police Department, conducted the investigation, with assistance from the Petaluma Police Department and additional support from the District Attorney’s office.
Ravitch also announced that, before releasing the findings, she contacted California Attorney General Kamala Harris to determine whether her office would undertake a review of the investigation and the District Attorney’s report. Ravitch said Harris’ office declined to do so, on the basis that no conflict or other cause existed to require an independent review. Ravitch added, “If any aggrieved party wishes to seek the Attorney General’s review, this office will cooperate fully in any examination they may undertake.”