Protests over the killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy have provided a mostly peaceful outlet for those wishing to air their feelings of grief and outrage.
But they haven't been free.
Overtime for deputies and police officers monitoring about 10 marches from downtown Santa Rosa to the county government center have cost a combined $225,000, officials said Monday.
The bulk of the expense -#8212; about $207,000 through Dec. 31 -#8212; was borne by the Sheriff's Office, which stationed deputies in riot gear outside its front doors and at the neighboring Hall of Justice during protests that drew up to 1,500 people.
"In these budgetary times, what I tell my staff is, any amount of money is significant," Sheriff Steve Freitas said. "When you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is significant."
Santa Rosa police officers racked up about $18,000 in overtime through Dec. 10. Acting Police Chief Hank Schreeder said the number does not include costs from a City Council meeting in which at least one protester carrying a cross was arrested.
He said expenses were kept to a minimum because most of the marches occurred during regular day shifts. But officers were pulled in from other assignments to watch the demonstrations, leaving other areas of the city unprotected.
"It has an impact on their whole community," Schreeder said.
Protest organizers rejected any notion that they are to blame for the overtime costs. Jon Melrod, an organizer from Sebastopol, said there would be no expense if Deputy Erick Gelhaus hadn't shot and killed Lopez.
"Once there is wrongdoing people have a right to speak out," Melrod said. "And that may cost. Democracy is expensive."
The teenager was killed Oct. 22 while walking along Moorland Avenue with an airsoft BB gun. Gelhaus told investigators he thought Lopez was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. The veteran deputy told police he ordered the boy to drop the gun, then opened fire when Lopez turned and raised the barrel in his direction. He shot Lopez seven times.
The death has sparked a series of protests and calls that Gelhaus be charged with murder. Melrod said another demonstration was planned today at the Board of Supervisors meeting. Law enforcement officials are expected to name appointments to a special panel that will consider a range of actions following the Lopez shooting, including possible creation of a civilian review board for officer-involved shootings.
Protesters from around Northern California are expected to attend, including the Mothers in White, who will hold mirrors as they confront board members.
Melrod said he's been contacted by people as far away as Oakland and the Sacramento area who are concerned about "the militarization of police across the United States."
The demonstrations so far have shined a light on the problem, he said.
"Absolutely the protests are having an impact," Melrod said. "I can't walk down the street in Santa Rosa without people coming up and expressing support of what we're doing."
Other rallies are being planned by coalition members who have more than doubled in number to about 75 people since the shooting, Melrod said. His group has hired a team of lawyers, including San Francisco civil rights attorney Tony Serra, to defend protesters arrested at the demonstrations. Melrod said the people did nothing wrong and were targeted for arrest because they were leading protests.
If You Go
Chapter 1268 of the Experimental Aircraft Association offers Young Eagles flights from 9 to 11:30 a.m. the second Sunday of the month (except December) at Sonoma Skypark Airport, 21870 Eighth St. E. The next flight date is Aug. 12
Rides are first-come, first-served. Kids 8 to 17 are eligible; waivers must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Flights are free, with donations welcome. For more information, call 707-996-2100 or visit sonomaskypark.com.
The Skypark also welcomes visitors for its $5 hamburger and hotdog barbecues from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and its fourth Saturday of the month movie nights featuring aviation-themed films. Movies begin at 6 p.m., with free popcorn and admission. A pizza dinner is served at 5:30 p.m. for $5. For upcoming screenings, check facebook.com/sonomaskypark.