In the week since the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the Santa Rosa City Council has been conspicuously silent about the tragedy that has sent protesters spilling into city streets.
That's largely because the shooting happened just outside city limits and involved Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies, not local police.
But the other reason is because City Attorney Caroline Fowler and City Manager Kathleen Millison have instructed City Council members to say nothing about it and refer all questions to the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he and other council members are in a "quandary" because while they recognize the community is suffering, they feel constrained in what they can say about the incident beyond calling it a tragedy.
"It sounds like you're not being responsive, but there isn't anything I can be responsive to," Bartley said. "I'm caught."
He said it has been "very frustrating" to not be able to discuss the shooting to date. He's had numerous media interview requests, including a television news van that parked outside his house.
But he said it would be premature to say anything about the shooting until all the facts are known, which won't happen until the investigation is complete.
"We're not going to have any answers in two days and we're not going to have any answers in a week," Bartley said.
The time will come for a public dialogue about how to prevent such tragedies in the future, but right now "emotions are raw" and the grieving process needs to play out before that process can begin, Bartley said.
On Friday, Fowler emailed the council telling them it was "critical that you not comment on the sheriff incident that is being investigated by the SRPD." She declined to discuss that advice, citing attorney-client privilege.
Millison followed up with an email stressing that "this is an active investigation and any comments or actions you take may represent interference with a police investigation which is a violation of law."
But Councilwoman Julie Combs called such warnings "overly broad" and worried that they have a "chilling effect" on public discourse at a time when it is needed most.
"I think a responsible leader has to make certain statements when we have a tragedy in our community and I think we can do this and follow our legal advice without discussing the case directly," Combs said.
One message she wants to send is that the community's first priority is to care of the Lopez family in their time of need. She also said people have the right to grieve and be angry and to protest, as long as children are kept safe.
She also said it was important to recognize that "there is a feeling of broken trust" and that people need to engage in a dialogue that will lead to action that will "heal this new wound and the old wounds that have been long standing in our community."
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. OnTwitter@citybeater