Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus will return to patrolling the streets next week, nearly 10 months after he shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez, sparking protests that revealed deep distrust of law enforcement among some residents, especially those in the Latino community.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in July cleared Gelhaus of any criminal wrongdoing for his actions in the fatal Oct. 22 shooting, which ignited an emotional debate about officers’ use of deadly force and the dangers of toy guns made to look like real firearms.
Lopez was shot while walking down a residential street on Santa Rosa’s southwest outskirts carrying an airsoft BB gun made to resemble an AK-47 assault rifle. Gelhaus told investigators he ordered the boy to drop the gun, then opened fire when Lopez turned toward the deputy, partially raising the barrel of the gun.
Gelhaus did not return a call seeking comment about his return to patrol duties. His attorney Terry Leoni said in an email that the veteran deputy welcomed “this assignment, and knows his nearly 25-years in law enforcement will continue to benefit the community.”
“He will continue to proudly serve the people of Sonoma County, as he has always done,” Leoni said.
Gelhaus, a firearms instructor in the Sheriff’s Office, has been back at work since December, largely in administrative assignments within the department. His return to patrol, including a wide range of duties interacting with the public, marks another potent moment in what has been a painful and tumultuous chapter in Sonoma County history.
For those who have continued to protest the deputy’s actions, news of Gelhaus’ return to patrol was met with surprise and a sense that their concerns had gone unheard.
– Click through for more –