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Lopez attorney: Sheriff's office 'encourages' use of deadly force

  • Vincent Caedoza, left, decorates a large altar constructed Friday at the memorial site for 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy near the corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues in Santa Rosa. (CONNER JAY/ The Press Democrat)

As a large wooden shrine sprung up Friday in the southwest Santa Rosa lot where a sheriff's deputy killed Andy Lopez last week, an attorney for the teen's family outlined the framework of a federal civil rights lawsuit the family intends to file next week.

Arnoldo Casillas, the attorney representing the Lopez family, said the Oct. 22 shooting was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment's limits on police authority.

The family will file a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco contending that Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez “without reasonable cause,” Casillas said in a statement. The shooting, he said, resulted from “an unconstitutional custom and practice” of the use of deadly force by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

Protest Over Andy Lopez Killing 10.30.13

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The family made similar allegations in a tort claim filed Thursday with the county. In that claim, Casillas alleged the “sheriff's department's training encourages deputies to prematurely shoot suspects who pose no threat or danger to deputies or the public at large.”

Sheriff Steve Freitas said Friday that he could not comment on the claim and referred all questions about it to County Counsel Bruce Goldstein.

“I can't talk about the claims or any questions that are arising out of the claims,” Freitas said.

Goldstein called the federal lawsuit “premature” and he dismissed some of the claim's allegations as legal “hyperbole.”

Under tort law, someone planning to sue a government agency must first file a claim with the agency, giving it time to resolve the matter before going to court, Goldstein said. To file a civil lawsuit only days after filing a tort claim is troubling, he said.

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