Andy’s Unity Park hosts posada days after Sonoma County settles suit over Andy Lopez shooting

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A posada in Andy’s Unity Park in Santa Rosa, just days after the county approved paying $3 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by Andy Lopez’s family, celebrated the Moorland and Roseland communities and Lopez’s life.

“This park is for the community children and it’s where they’re going to remember Andy,” said Concepción Dominguez, a friend and former neighbor of the Lopez family.

The posada was organized by Sonoma County Regional Parks and LandPaths, a nonprofit dedicated to building community connection to nature. The event featured a traditional Christmas song, sung by the entire crowd of about 75 people, which dramatizes the biblical Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to sleep on their way to Bethlehem. Chicken tinga, carnitas and atole were served, and the event ended with children breaking open piñatas.

Omar Gallardo, the new audiences manager for LandPaths, told the crowd the timing of the posada — three days after the county announced the settlement terms — added extra significance to the event.

Andy’s Unity Park opened in June following a community push to revitalize the formerly empty field where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed in 2013 by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus. Now a sergeant, Gelhaus mistook the boy’s BB gun for an assault rifle.

The settlement closed the most prominent civil rights suit lodged against the county and was the largest amount of money the county has paid to settle a case involving officer use of force.

Andy’s death became a flashpoint for local police-community relations and public debate about law enforcement practices.

“With all the news that just happened about where we’re standing, it’s a very somber moment, but it’s a time to come together,” Gallardo said.

Although the settlement will help bring closure to Lopez’s family, Domingue said, it doesn’t go far enough toward restoring trust between the community and law enforcement.

“On the one hand, there’s no justice because the policeman is still on the street. ... Money isn’t going to bring Andy back,” she said. “But I want peace for the family.”

Moorland resident Esther Lemus Sr., a member of the Moorland Neighborhood Action Team, said Andy’s Unity Park is a positive step toward improving the lives of Moorland residents.

“It means a lot. It’s a gathering place for the community, for teenagers,” she said. “(Moorland) was one of the forgotten areas. And unfortunately it had to happen, the Andy Lopez death, to bring attention to the community.”

Jesica Rodriguez, a bilingual field specialist for LandPaths, said events like Friday’s posada are important to draw the community together, and encourage members to spend more time outside.

“If they come here today, they’ll know it and they’ll come back,” she said. “In the past, this was an area that had a lot of crime ... if you bring people out, it’ll become safer.”

Lemus said the posada is a first step on the way to widespread community use of the park for social events.

“It’s the start of more posadas, more gatherings like this,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205.

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