Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and her main political rival sparred Friday over her handling of the investigation into the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
Deputy District Attorney Victoria Shanahan, who is running against Ravitch in the June 3 primary, on Friday accused her boss of failing to deliver on campaign promises to reform how officer-involved deaths are reviewed in the county, instead adopting a "business as usual" approach.
"This tragic situation has shed light on her failure to lead this office to the next level," said Shanahan, who vowed a speedier and more transparent process if she is elected.
But Ravitch blasted her colleague's remarks as "shameful and reckless" and vowed not to allow the ongoing investigation to be politicized.
"I'm very disappointed that my opponent has chosen to politicize the tragic death of a child," Ravitch said. "It is disrespectful of the memory of Andy Lopez, and most of all it distracts from my paramount duty to ensure the investigation is thorough and fair, an essential prerequisite to seeking justice."
The exchange highlights how Lopez's death continues to reverberate throughout a community struggling to come to grips with why he was killed and what needs to change.
Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times Oct. 22 as the eighth-grader 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 decried what they labeled an example of excessive police force in a largely Latino neighborhood. They also are demanding that Gelhaus, who since has returned to work on a desk assignment, be brought up on criminal charges.
Following protocols for officer-involved shootings, the Santa Rosa Police Department investigated the case with help from the Petaluma Police Department and delivered its report on the shooting to Ravitch on Wednesday. She pledged a thorough and transparent review process, but said she would not be rushed through a report she called "voluminous."
"To suggest that I should turn around after many months of investigation and suddenly decide whether or not a crime occurred is not respecting the process and not respecting the pursuit of justice," Ravitch said Friday.
The 90-day review period suggested in a county protocol is only a guideline and not required by law, she said. On Thursday, she released statistics showing the average turnaround time for such a decision is more than six months.
Lopez activists seized on the release as a sign Ravitch was planning to delay her review until after the primary, which Ravitch has denied.
Shanahan on Friday said Ravitch's apparent justification of a potentially longer review period highlights her unkept campaign promise to overhaul the process.
When Ravitch ran against her boss, incumbent D.A. Stephan Passalacqua, in 2010, Ravitch argued there had been a "loss of confidence" among local law enforcement due to his handling of officer-involved fatalities, with reviews taking up to 22 months, Shanahan noted.
"We owe it to the people on the streets who wear badges" to act more quickly, Ravitch said during the campaign, according to the blog item by Press Democrat editorial writer Jim Sweeney cited by Shanahan.