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Dozens hold vigil at Santa Rosa park on eighth anniversary of Andy Lopez’s death

About four dozen people stood around the stone memorial, decorated in marigolds and votive candles persistently flickering against the cold autumnal wind at Andy’s Unity Park on Friday. It was the eighth anniversary of the death of the park’s namesake at the hands of a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy.

Maria Ponce prayed the rosary in warbling Spanish in front of the group. Masked faces turned down, and a handful of attendees mournfully mumbled prayers in response.

Andy Lopez was 13 when he was shot and killed by Deputy Erick Gelhaus on Oct. 22, 2013. He was walking near the intersection of Moorland and West Robles avenues by the then-empty lot now occupied by playgrounds and picnic tables, carrying an airsoft rifle designed to resemble an assault weapon, when Gelhaus and his partner encountered him.

Gelhaus said that he had shot the boy after commanding him to put down the plastic rifle, which the deputy said he mistook for a real gun. Seven bullets struck the boy’s body, and he died there on the sidewalk.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office did not press criminal charges against Gelhaus, who was promoted to sergeant in 2016 and retired in 2019. Ravitch suggested in a July interview with KSRO that an investigation conducted today might have turned out differently, because of information she did not have at the time she made her original decision not to charge Gelhaus.

Ana Salgado, a co-organizer of Friday’s vigil, said that events like Friday’s will — and should — continue years after Lopez was killed.

“We have to remember his memory because it was a huge injustice, and there still hasn’t been any justice for his family,” she said in Spanish.

Lopez’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sonoma County in 2013 and settled for $3 million in 2018.

After the rosary was completed and people began to mingle, Lopez’s mother Sujey Cruz joined Salgado and commented on the ideal weather, which had remained dry despite forecasts of rain earlier this week.

“Nothing is just a coincidence,” she remarked to Salgado, an old friend.

This was more people than Susan Collier Lamont, a local activist and co-organizer of the event, expected to show up. Among the crowd were Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers and Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers.

One of the reasons for the high turnout, Collier said, may be anger over police violence reignited after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer, which drove protests across Sonoma County and the nation last summer.

Another may be new information about the case that came to light in a recent documentary, “3 Seconds in October,” by local filmmaker Ron Rogers. Using previously confidential police investigation records only made public in 2019, the film retold the story of Lopez’s killing and its aftermath in heightened detail.

The documentary, advocates say, calls into question the integrity of the original criminal investigation into Gelhaus, which resulted in him being cleared of all charges. Jerry Threet, a civil rights attorney and the former director of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, plans to petition California Attorney General Rob Bonta to review the case and determine whether Gelhaus should have been held criminally liable.

Cruz said the yearly memorial and the park hosting it, which was established in 2018 in Lopez’s honor, are intended to be reminders of what she said is justice not yet served for her son.

“We have kids and grandchildren and nieces and nephews, and we need to make sure this doesn’t happen to them,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct Ana Salgado’s role in the event and relationship to Andy Lopez’s family.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety, The Press Democrat  

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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