We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

The protesters flooded the council chambers at about 4:30 p.m, just as retiring Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm was being recognized for his 30 years of service. "No justice, no peace," the demonstrators chanted. Council members stopped the proceedings and most left the room.

One of the protesters, Ramon Cairo, who organized the cross demonstration, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer with a protest sign as demonstrators tried to get into the chambers.

Police said another officer was punched in the face, but the suspect in that incident was not arrested. Demonstrators said Cairo did not act aggressively toward police.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors also took a short recess from its afternoon public comment session when a speaker refused to adhere to a time limit.

"There's no issue in this county that rises to a higher need to be addressed than the death of Andy Lopez," said Jonathan Melrod, a Sebastopol resident and organizer with the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez.

"You can cut off my mic, you can have the sheriffs pull me out of here — that's irrelevant. We want to know why (Deputy) Gelhaus was returned to work!"

Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s, who announced Gelhaus' return late last week, said Tuesday that Gelhaus had been brought back to work because an ongoing internal inquiry by the Sheriff's Office has found that Gelhaus followed department procedure.

"We're not done yet," Due?s said, stressing that the determination was not final. "I'm just saying that based on what we know and based on what we have, it doesn't look like there was any violation of policy."

The internal review is based on an initial briefing by Santa Rosa police, shared with the Sheriff's Office, which included police interviews immediately following the shooting with Gelhaus and the trainee deputy with him that day. The trainee did not fire his gun.

The Sheriff's Office review is not looking at criminal wrongdoing. That is the purview of an investigation by Santa Rosa police, overseen by District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who will determine whether Gelhaus faces charges.

"We're not talking about guilt or innocence; we're talking about policy," Due?s said about the sheriff's review. "Was deadly force used? Did he follow deadly force policy?

"Right now, there's nothing screaming at us that he violated any policy," Due?s said.

Civil service rules give the Sheriff's Office discretion over personnel moves in such cases, including the option to keep a deputy on administrative leave or bring him back, Due?s said.

Sheriff Steve Freitas "gave the final nod," Due?s said.

"In good conscience, we can't just let him sit there," he said. "Our job is to get him back to work."

On Tuesday, police and sheriff's officials deployed large numbers of riot-gear-clad personnel wherever protesters marched, including City Hall, the Police Department and the Sheriff's Office.

At the county jail, demonstrators demanded the release of Cairo. Protesters, some of them children, pounded on the jail's glass doors and windows, chanted slogans and banged on drums. One of the jail's front glass doors was broken.

When sheriff's officials declared the protest an "illegal assembly," the demonstrators began to fear the use of tear gas. Demonstrators left the jail premises as deputies in riot gear began to clear the front breezeway.

One of the protesters who attended both the city and county government meetings called Gelhaus' return to duty a "slap in the face" to those who for weeks have been decrying Lopez's death.

"What this says to other officers is that it's open season, that they can murder Latino children or any children and they will get two months' paid vacation and a desk job," said Dara McCuistion of Santa Rosa.

Due?s said that the weeks Gelhaus was on paid administrative leave — a routine procedure after officer-involved shootings — was not "vacation."

"He was obliged to call in daily and check with a personnel sergeant," Due?s said.

His current desk assignment does not involve contact with the public and he is being monitored daily, Due?s said.

Gelhaus' lawyer, Terry Leoni, contended that an examination of both the facts of the case, as well as the law involving the use of deadly force, shows that Gelhaus acted appropriately.

"Erick hasn't committed any policy violation and he certainly hasn't committed any criminal misconduct," she said.

"The law allows officers to make these split-second decisions when faced with a lethal threat," she said, even if Lopez was carrying a BB gun. "The law doesn't look at what we know afterward; it's the perceptions at that time and whether the facts and circumstances as known to the officer were reasonable at that time."

At the Board of Supervisors, speakers from a group of three dozen demonstrators said Gelhaus' return to work was confounding, a rash insult to their calls for "justice."

Nicole Guerra, who said her son, Tony, was Andy Lopez's best friend, broke down in tears speaking to the board. She dropped off what she said were petitions with 1,000 signatures supporting creation of a memorial park in Lopez's neighborhood on Moorland Avenue, on the southwestern outskirts of Santa Rosa.

"This community needs it. They want it now," Guerra said of the park. County supervisors endorsed creating a park last week, setting in motion work on a possible deal with the property owner.

Other speakers said that not only did they disagree with Gelhaus' return to work, they distrusted the medical evaluation that cleared him for duty.

"I would never release someone who put seven bullets into a 13-year-old's body," said Elaine Holtz of Santa Rosa.

David Rabbitt, the Board of Supervisors chairman, reconvened the county meeting after a short recess prompted by demonstrators, who erupted in shouts at the start of the afternoon session. He urged the speakers and spectators to respect the public comment process.

"If you've been following what this board has been saying and doing for the last two months or so (in response to the Lopez shooting), whatever your feelings are and the passions you've felt, the emotions of this board felt are not far behind," Rabbitt said.

Speaking Tuesday evening after demonstrators left City Hall, Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky said it was the right decision to let the crowd into the council chamber, but said "I question the wisdom of (Cairo's) arrest. It seemed like it did incite the crowd."

"I agree in venting," Wysocky said in reference to the angry outbursts inside the council chambers from the demonstrators.

"We are their government," he said, adding that many of the protesters are young, underprivileged and "do not feel part of the community."

The Sheriff's Office also made an arrest Tuesday night. Sheriff's officials said Jose Godoy, 24, of Santa Rosa was arrested on suspicion of violating probation and obstructing a peace officer. Godoy was booked in the Sonoma County Jail after he was stopped leaving the protest at the Sheriff's Office in a vehicle, officials said.

Staff Writers Clark Mason and Julie Johnson contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writers Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com and Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment