s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Group wants state attorney general to look into Andy Lopez case


A group protesting the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy is urging state Attorney General Kamala Harris to intervene, saying the incident has become too politicized and the public has lost faith that it will be handled fairly.

Jonathan Melrod, a Sebastopol lawyer and organizer with the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, said this week in a letter to Harris that the ongoing criminal review of Dep. Erick Gelhaus' actions has become fraught with "subterfuge, delay and political taint" and that Harris must take over.

A main concern is that District Attorney Jill Ravitch has become too closely allied with Sheriff Steve Freitas as they both seek re-election, creating a conflict of interest as she considers the possibility of charges for his deputy, Melrod said.

Also, Melrod said Ravitch's office has devolved into "vicious internecine warfare" as her re-election opponent, Deputy District Attorney Victoria Shanahan, publicly criticizes her for a lack of transparency and for not removing herself from the case.

"At this juncture, the case of 13-year-old Andy Lopez has unfortunately become a political football being kicked back and forth between opposing electoral camps in the D.A.'s office," Melrod wrote. "No fair, impartial or thorough investigation can result from such a morass of political infighting."

Nick Pacilio, an attorney general spokesman, said Friday the office received the letter and was reviewing it. He could not say if the state would intervene in the case.

Ravitch said Friday the attorney general previously found she did not have a conflict. Ravitch sought an opinion Nov. 1 and "nothing has changed in the interim with regard to our ability to do the review," she said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez, along with a senior investigator, is handling the case and will make a recommendation to Ravitch about whether the shooting was justified or a criminal act.

"I have confidence in the review that is underway," Ravitch said. "If the attorney general feels that office is more appropriate to do the review, I would be more than happy to turn all the materials over to them."

But protesters said the situation has spiralled over the past few weeks as the election heats up.

Under a local protocol for officer-involved shootings, Ravitch is encouraged to decide whether to charge Gelhaus with a crime within 90 days of receiving police reports. She warned after getting the Lopez materials late last month that it could take longer.

Shanahan criticized Ravitch for failing to deliver on campaign promises to make the process speedier and more open.

Ravitch supporters fired back that Shanahan would have a conflict because her husband is a sheriff's deputy.

Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times Oct. 22 as the eighth-grader was walking along Moorland Avenue in Santa Rosa carrying a BB gun that resembled an AK-47.

The deputy reportedly mistook it for a real gun and opened fire after yelling at Lopez to drop it. Gelhaus told investigators he felt threatened by the way Lopez raised the gun as he turned.

The shooting made national news as protesters decried what they saw as excessive police force in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. They have staged numerous cross-town marches, demanding Gelhaus be brought up on criminal charges.

Soon after the shooting, the Lopez family sued Gelhaus and the Sheriff's Office in federal court, alleging their son's civil rights were violated.

In January, the county filed a motion to stay the civil proceedings until after the criminal determination is made.

In court papers, county lawyers argue the motion should be granted to protect Gelhaus' right against self-incrimination should he be deposed. Also, the county said civil proceedings could compromise the integrity of the criminal case.

The Lopez family lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas, countered, saying any postponement would deny a prompt resolution to the family's claims. Also, Casillas said in court papers, there are no criminal charges pending and the likelihood of charges being filed is remote.

(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com)