One month after 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy, protesters on Friday staged another crosstown march to the courthouse, calling for the deputy's arrest and prosecution.
The rally marked the Oct. 22 slaying of Andy Lopez, who was shot as he walked down a Santa Rosa street carrying a BB gun that looked like an assault rifle. Deputy Erick Gelhaus told police he fired because he thought Lopez was holding an AK-47 rifle and was turning toward him.
But critics question whether Gelhaus gave the boy enough time to understand what was happening when he called out to him and began shooting within a matter of seconds.
On Friday, about 60 protesters marched from Santa Rosa City Hall along Mendocino Avenue to the Hall of Justice, chanting slogans and carrying signs urging Dist. Atty. Jill Ravitch to charge Gelhaus with murder.
Many accused Ravitch of taking too long to reach a decision. Some said they would picket her upcoming re-election events until they got what they wanted.
"She could arrest him right now," said organizer Terri Carrion of Guerneville. "We want Erick Gelhaus prosecuted."
The march up Mendocino Avenue was smaller than past rallies that drew hundreds and mostly peaceful, although it tied up northbound traffic.
Tensions flared outside the courthouse when several younger protesters broke through a police line and charged about a dozen uniformed deputies standing guard at the south entrance. Reinforcements in riot gear came out with batons in hand but there was no physical contact and no arrests.
Standing just feet away, protesters jeered the deputies as organizers urged them to stay back. At one point, Andy Lopez's mother arrived and pleaded with people to remain calm.
"It's not worth the violence," she said over a loudspeaker. "Everyone be safe."
Speaking in Spanish, she shared her feelings about the loss of her son. She said she would never again spend holidays with him or hug him.
"I'm lonely living without my son," she said. "I need my son in my life."
She and her husband have launched a civil rights lawsuit in federal court seeking undisclosed damages their lawyer said could exceed $20 million.
The Santa Rosa Police Department is investigating the shooting under a county protocol for officer-involved incidents. The report will be sent to the district attorney to decide if the killing was justified or not.
Ravitch said she has 90 days to make a finding.
The shooting happened as police said Gelhaus and a partner were patrolling a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood. They spotted Lopez on foot, carrying what looked to them like an AK-47 rifle. It turned out to be an airsoft gun.
Gelhaus yelled to Lopez, who turned and was shot seven times. Gelhaus told police Lopez was raising the gun and that he feared for his life.
But protesters said the 28-year veteran acted in haste. Some said police are more likely to resort to deadly force in non-white neighborhoods.
They staged three previous rallies to the Sheriff's Office and courthouse.
On Friday the crowd chanted "Jail him now!" as they confronted riot police outside the courthouse. An effigy of Gelhaus hung from a nearby lightpole.
You guys killed our friend, our cousin, our brother," shouted Lisbet Mendoza, a 15-year-old Montgomery High student. "He was just a little kid."