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Two arrested as Lopez protest halts meetings

  • Andy Lopez activist Ramon Cairo attempts to enter the City Council chambers at City Hall in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. Cairo was later arrested by Santa Rosa Police. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

A preliminary internal review by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office has found that a veteran deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy did not violate department procedures, sheriff's officials said Tuesday, as angry demonstrators marched through Santa Rosa and temporarily halted public meetings by city and county officials.

Two people were arrested during the demonstrations, which were largely fueled by Deputy Erick Gelhaus' return to work Monday, nearly seven weeks after he fatally shot Andy Lopez. The 24-year deputy and firearms instructor reportedly mistook the airsoft BB gun the boy was holding — one made to look like an AK-47 — for a real assault rifle.

Gelhaus' return to duty amid ongoing investigations escalated tensions between local law enforcement officials and demonstrators seeking quick justice for Lopez's killing to their highest level since the Oct. 22 shooting.

Andy Lopez Protest At City Hall

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Critics of law enforcement have branded the incident a blatant use of excessive force while frequent protests have spotlighted a shattered relationship with local government, a rift widened by racial and economic divides, protesters say.

On Tuesday, it was clear Gelhaus' return from paid administrative leave to a desk assignment had created a new flashpoint. One protester said Gelhaus had received “two months paid vacation and a desk job” in the shooting's wake.

About 75 protesters, some carrying bullhorns and crosses to symbolize people who've died at the hands or in the care of local law enforcement in recent years, forced the Santa Rosa City Council to halt its meeting for at least 20 minutes.

Video: Warning Graphic Language

The protesters flooded the council chambers at about 4:30 p.m, just as retiring Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm was being recognized for his 30 years of service. “No justice, no peace,” the demonstrators chanted. Council members stopped the proceedings and most left the room.

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