Faced with a politically-charged ruling on an officer-involved shooting that killed a Santa Rosa 13-year-old, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch released statistics Thursday showing the average turnaround time for such a decision is more than six months.
The information came out as critics accused Ravitch of planning to stall her decision about the legality of the Oct. 22 killing of eighth-grader Andy Lopez until after the June 3 election.
A district attorney spokeswoman denied any plan to delay the ruling. Office members were reviewing a report delivered Wednesday by Santa Rosa police investigators and would release a finding when they are done, Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said. She stressed the 90-day time period suggested in a county protocol was only a guideline and not required by law.
"This decision is going to take as long as is necessary to be thorough and complete and consistent with the demands of justice," Cook said. "And we don't have any idea how long that is going to take. We just received the reports."
Ravitch could not comment Thursday because she was out of the office on a family emergency, Cook said.
Prosecutors exceeded the recommended 90 days to make findings in 23 out of 30 police shootings, jail deaths and other fatalities dating back to 2005, according to statistics released Thursday by the District Attorney's Office.
(<b>Read the statistics <a href="http://srweb.sar.dc.publicus.com/assets/pdf/SR26579130.PDF"><i>here</i></a> </b>)
Ravitch has ruled on five such incidents since she took office in 2011, taking an average of about four months, the data said. Three of the reviews took 90 days or less. The longest review took more than seven months.
Activists accused the district attorney of laying the groundwork for months of foot-dragging to avoid losing voters who have already formed strong opinions about whether the deadly shooting was justified. They called on her to release the police report and any recommendation.
"Every politician would rather not take a difficult stand before an election," said Jon Melrod, a Sebastopol attorney and member of a coalition group that has been protesting the shooting. "It's inevitably going to alienate one side or the other."
Cook said the police report would not be made public, citing an ongoing investigation by her office. She would not discuss details.
Police said Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times as the youth was walking along Moorland Avenue carrying an airsoft BB gun that looked like an AK-47 assault rifle. The deputy reportedly mistook it for a real weapon and opened fire after yelling at Lopez to drop the gun.
Gelhaus told police investigators he felt threatened by the way Lopez raised the gun as he turned.
The shooting made national news as protesters staged numerous cross-town marches decrying what they said is an example of excessive police force in a largely Latino neighborhood. They also are demanding that Gelhaus be brought up on criminal charges.
The deputy was temporarily suspended but returned to duty after a Sheriff's Office review found he broke no department policies.
Santa Rosa police led a criminal investigation that took more than three months to complete, submitting their report to prosecutors Wednesday.
Under the county protocol for officer-involved incidents, the district attorney is encouraged to decide within 90 days if the shooting was justified or not and whether the deputy committed any crime.