A Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy after mistaking a BB gun he was carrying for an assault rifle will return to duty next week, a sheriff's spokesman said Friday.
Dep. Erick Gelhaus has been on leave since the Oct. 22 shooting of Andy Lopez. Gelhaus underwent mental health screening and will come back to work in an administrative capacity, said Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas.
He will remain on the desk assignment until District Attorney Jill Ravitch reviews an investigative report and makes a finding about whether he committed criminal wrongdoing, Duenas said.
“He's cleared to come back to duty from a fitness standpoint but won't be returning to patrol,” Duenas said.
Gelhaus has been off the job since shooting Lopez seven times when he and another deputy spotted the teen walking along Moorland Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa carrying what looked like an AK-47.
According to police investigators, Gelhaus, who is a 28-year veteran and a department armorer, and the other deputy drove up behind Lopez in a patrol car and shouted at him to stop.
Police said Gelhaus told them he opened fire when Lopez turned, raising the barrel of the gun. The rifle turned out to be a plastic airsoft gun that shoots plastic BBs.
Outrage over the shooting spread from the largely Latino neighborhood through the city and beyond. Protesters have staged a number of rallies, decrying what they said is a case of excessive force. Many are calling on Ravitch to charge Gelhaus with manslaughter or murder.
The news of Gelhaus' return shocked those who have been protesting in the streets for weeks since the Lopez shooting.
“This is very, very, very bad news,” said Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Andy Lopez Organizing Group. “A large part of Sonoma County think of Gelhaus as a murderer. They think he's dangerous. And we've seen through investigation that he's had problems out on the street.”