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Santa Rosa council hears passionate pleas from Lopez protesters


The Santa Rosa City Council members on Tuesday got what Sonoma County supervisors have been receiving for several weeks -#8212; an earful from residents irate about the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez and passionately demanding accountability.

Even though Lopez was shot and killed outside city limits, the council sought to give community members a chance to address them directly.

Protesters largely ignored jurisdictional differences between the city and county, police and sheriff's departments in their often angry remarks.

"You need to indict this guy!" Alfredo Sanchez bellowed at the council as he held up a sign that read "Indict Deputy Gelhaus!"

Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez Oct. 22 as the teen walked along Moorland Avenue carrying a plastic BB gun designed to look like an AK-47 assault rifle. Gelhaus reportedly has told investigators he mistook the gun for a real weapon.

The shooting has triggered one of the most sustained calls for social change in the community's history, tapping into deep feelings of disenfranchisement among largely Latino residents of southwest Santa Rosa.

City Manager Kathy Millison opened the discussion by outlining some of the efforts city took in the wake of the shooting. She said Mayor Scott Bartley spoke to the media several times and the city was in touch with various community groups offering their services to those grieving the tragedy.

She said the city has been working for months on a plan to move forward with the annexation of Roseland, a county island that like Lopez's neighborhood sits just outside city limits but identifies itself as part of the city even though it technically is not. The council will be getting an update on that long-range effort Feb. 11, she said.

Some speakers, however, took the city to task for its response to the tragedy, which some have criticized as lacking leadership. Susan Lamont, coordinator of the Peace - Justice Center of Sonoma County, lambasted the council as out-of-touch, suggesting its members need to spend more time getting to know the disadvantaged parts of the community.

"Instead of reaching out to the family of Andy Lopez in their sorrow, you circled the wagons and thought only of yourselves," Lamont said. "Shame on you!"

Several residents held signs such as "Stop Police Brutality!" and "Indict Deputy Gelhaus," and "Justice for Andy." Some took videos of themselves addressing the county. Many were from Santa Rosa, many from the unincorporated areas of the southwest, and a handful were organizers from out of the area active in the local protests.

Several referenced a detainment last week of several young activists, saying it was harassment by law enforcement. Police said earlier this week that they were investigating a report that one of the youths had brandished a firearm to a driver, though no firearm was found in the car.

Robert Edmonds, an outspoken critic of police on issues ranging from use of force to gang prevention, showed a video of the teen protesters showing red marks around their wrists. He claimed they had been handcuffed for three hours.

Other residents demanded an independent investigation be performed, and highlighted what they saw as ties between Santa Rosa and Sonoma County that raised questions about the ability of the Santa Rosa Police Department's to conduct an impartial investigation in the shooting. Santa Rosa's department is conducting the investigation into the shooting to avoid the conflict of the Sheriff's Office investigating its own personnel.

Many of those in attendance Tuesday were teenagers unaccustomed to speaking before crowds, but several nevertheless got up the courage to address the council directly.

"You would be standing here with us if that was your kid!" said Anthony Guzman, 15.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.