The attorney for the parents of a teenage boy killed by a sheriff's deputy last year said Sunday he believes "the decision's been made" not to prosecute the deputy who shot him and that politics are delaying an announcement about whether it was legally justified.
Arnoldo Casillas, of the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello, was the keynote speaker at the annual awards ceremony of the Sonoma County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I make my living standing in front of juries trying to convince them that police officers, certain police officers, are bad folks. Sometimes it's real easy and sometimes it's hard," he said.
Casillas represents Sujey and Rodrigo Lopez, the parents of Andy Lopez, who was killed Oct. 22 when Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus, a 24-year law enforcement veteran, reportedly mistook the boy's Airsoft BB gun for a real AK-47 as he turned toward officers.
The family filed a federal civil lawsuit 13 days later, alleging the shooting was unjustified and that Gelhaus acted recklessly when he shot Lopez seven times. It also faults the Sheriff's Office, accusing it of "encouraging, accommodating, or ratifying" the use of excessive force by deputies.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. But Casillas has said he expected damages could exceed the $24 million he won last year for the family of a Los Angeles boy who was shot and paralyzed by police when he was playing with an Airsoft gun, which fires plastic BBs.
A federal judge granted the county's motion to halt further civil proceedings until mid-May so local prosecutors can have more time to decide if criminal charges are warranted against Gelhaus.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced last week that her investigators have made headway, but are still looking at potential evidence and forensic reports.
Critics of Ravitch have claimed that she is delaying the potentially explosive decision until after the election. Her challenger in the June 3 election, prosecutor Victoria Shanahan, has said Ravitch has failed to deliver on campaign promises to make the process speedier and more open.
Ravitch has said she had hoped to have a decision within 90 days, but that that timeframe is only a guideline.
"We are diligently moving through the investigative reports and evidence," she said Sunday. "The timeline is determined by the investigation, not politics."
Casillas, who said he has "sued cops" for two decades on behalf of clients who sometimes have "unsavory pasts," said he believes Ravitch has already determined the shooting was justified.
"The Santa Rosa Police Department officials stand up in front of God and everybody else and they show the replica gun and they say it was reasonable for the officer to believe he was going to die," he said.
Santa Rosa police investigated the shooting under a long-standing county protocol that calls for an uninvolved agency to examine the incident. Investigators will forward their findings to Ravitch, who will make a determination if Gelhaus violated in laws.
"The decision's been made, folks," Casillas told the ACLU audience of about 200 people. "They will justify that shooting."
Casillas said Lopez's mother told him last week that she hopes those who support her family will remain peaceful when a decision is announced.