As prosecutors decide whether to file criminal charges against the Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez, government leaders, law enforcement officials and local activists are taking steps to defuse the potential for violent protests after the decision is announced.
A conciliation specialist from the U.S. Department of Justice has been dispatched to Santa Rosa to train dozens of "goodwill ambassadors" to act as peacemakers if tensions flare between police and protesters.
The Sheriff's Office is rescheduling work shifts to ensure a maximum number of deputies are available, if needed, to respond to any trouble when prosecutors announce their decision, Sheriff Steve Freitas said. Deputies are receiving ongoing crowd-control training, he said.
"We will absolutely do our best to defend people's right to protest and demonstrate," Freitas said. "But we will take action if people vandalize property or injure people. Hopefully, that won't happen."
Freitas said he didn't know when District Attorney Jill Ravitch will announce her decision on whether to file charges against veteran Deputy Erick Gelhaus. She has been reviewing a Santa Rosa police report on the killing since January.
Ravitch could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. She has refused to commit to a timetable for her decision, saying she is not bound by a 90-day guideline set forth in a countywide protocol for ruling on officer-involved shootings.
Protesters are urging her to charge Gelhaus with murder for the Oct. 22 killing. Lopez was shot seven times as he walked along Moorland Avenue with what Gelhaus said he thought was an assault rifle. It turned out to be an airsoft BB gun designed to resemble an AK-47.
Jonathan Melrod, an organizer in the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, said he believes the decision could come this week.
Protesters will take to the streets regardless of the outcome. Organizers will gather at 4 p.m. outside the Dollar Store on Sebastopol Road the day of the decision and at 5:30 p.m. in Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa the day after.
Melrod said he hoped to avoid any confrontation with police.