Federal judge lifts some restrictions on lawsuit over Andy Lopez death

  • Andy Lopez

A federal judge ruled Thursday the family of 13-year-old Andy Lopez may proceed with part of their wrongful death lawsuits against Sonoma County and the sheriff's deputy who shot and killed their son.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton lifted a portion of a stay she issued in February that barred any action on the lawsuit until District Attorney Jill Ravitch decides whether to prosecute the deputy, Erick Gelhaus.

Her new order sets a 30-day timeline for county lawyers to respond to the family's lawsuit, filed just days after the Oct. 22 shooting. It also requires the release of evidence related to claims of negligence against the county for its training policies.

But information about Gelhaus, including witness statements, depositions and police reports, will remain be kept from the family until after Ravitch announces a decision, the judge said.

"Not much is going to happen until then," said the county's lawyer, Steve Mitchell.

Lopez family attorney Arnoldo Casillas said he did not know when a decision would be announced. He noted the county's legal brief did not include a declaration from Ravitch, as it had in the past, seeking a stay on proceedings.

"I'd like to think it's an indication she is on the verge of a decision but it's just wild speculation on my part," Casillas said.

He said would request the stay on Gelhaus material be lifted if the district attorney fails to charge the deputy.

The family has not yet received police reports and has been unable to review evidence that could show wrongdoing on his part, Casillas said.

On the other hand, if Gelhaus is charged, Casillas said he would agree to reinstatement of the full stay until the criminal case plays out.

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