The parents of a 13-year-old boy shot and killed by police last month in California are suing the officer who fired the fatal bullet.
Rodrigo Lopez and Sujey Cruz Casarez filed the federal lawsuit Monday against Sonoma County deputy sheriff Erick Gelhaus, calling Gelhaus’ actions a “senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.”
The couple’s son, Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa, Calif., was shot by Gelhaus on Oct. 22 after the deputy sherrif mistook the pellet gun Lopez was carrying for an automatic rifle. “Andy Lopez was carrying an airsoft-type toy rifle in his left hand at his side. He was returning the toy to a friend,” the lawsuit said.
Lopez was spotted while walking by two deputies, who approached Lopez and shouted at him. “As their patrol car came to a stop, the two deputies opened their doors and simultaneously stepped out of the patrol car as it came to a stop,” the lawsuit said. “They both drew their sidearms and pointed them at Andy Lopez.”
According to the lawsuit, Gelhaus fired his pistol at Lopez without warning as Lopez was turning to face the officers. The lawsuit goes on to allege that Gelhaus continued to shoot even after Lopez fell to the ground.
The lawsuit further claims that the teen’s death is not the first instance of “excessive force” exhibited by Gelhaus during his career as a police officer, and alleges that Gelhaus has been accused in the past of pulling a gun on a woman during a neighborhood dispute, and has also been accused of falsifying police reports.
Gelhaus’ attorney, Terry Leoni, told NBC Bay Area on Monday that she had no information linking Gelhaus to those accusations. Leoni also rejected the accusation from some in the community that argued Lopez’s race played a factor in his death.
“Race and age had nothing to do with it,” Leoni said. “The only reason [Gelhaus] fired his weapon was because of the threat of a very real-looking AK-47. There was nothing to indicate it was a replica.”