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!"

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