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Family Of Sonoma Teen Killed By Deputy To File Civil Rights Suit

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13-year-old Andy Lopez was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputies in Santa Rosa on October 22, 2013. (CBS)

13-year-old Andy Lopez was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies in Santa Rosa on October 22, 2013. (CBS)

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SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — The attorney for the family of 13-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz will file a federal civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco Monday against Sonoma County and the sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot the teen on Oct. 22.

The lawsuit in Federal District Court will allege the fatal shooting was without reasonable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Lopez family attorney Arnoldo Casillas said.

The complaint also will allege the shooting resulted in an unconstitutional custom and practice at the sheriff’s office regarding the use of deadly force, Casillas said.

Lopez’s parents Rodrigo Lopez and Sujey Cruz Casarez will attend a news conference at 1 p.m. in San Francisco on the findings of their investigation, the results of a private autopsy and the details of their son’s life, Casillas said.

Casillas also filed three wrongful death claims on behalf of the boy’s father and mother and the estate of Andy Lopez Cruz. The claims were received Thursday in Sonoma County.

The claims allege that as a result of the “intentional and/or negligent conduct” that caused the boy’s death, the parents suffered “loss of financial support, gifts or benefits, funeral and burial expenses, the reasonable value of household services Andy would have provided and the loss of his love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support.”

The three claims seek unspecified monetary damages.

The claim on behalf of Lopez’s estate seeks damages, losses and the imposition of punitive damages “against the deputies that shot and killed him.”

Only sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez as he walked down Moorland Avenue with a toy AK-47 rifle that Gelhaus believed was an authentic assault rifle, Santa Rosa police said.

Lopez was shot seven times and died at the scene. The identity of the other deputy has not been released.

Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said the filing of the civil rights lawsuit in San Francisco makes the three wrongful death claims premature.

“The filing of the claims is not unusual. They are a little quick but not unexpected,” Goldstein said.

“The filing of a civil rights lawsuit before the criminal investigation (by the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments) is unusual,” Goldstein said.

“The lawsuit could interfere with the investigation,” he said.

The county has 45 days to respond to the three wrongful death claims, Goldstein said.

The civil rights lawsuit, not the three wrongful death claims, will be the primary civil action regarding the wrongful death issues, Goldstein said.

The three wrongful death claims state Andy Lopez was unarmed, posed no risk of threat to the deputies or others and was shot without cause or provocation.

The claims also allege the use of force was condoned by the sheriff’s office.

“The sheriff’s department’s training encourages deputies to prematurely shoot suspects who pose no threat or danger to deputies or the public at large,” the claims state.

It also is alleged the sheriff’s office failed to develop and implement policies, procedures and training regarding the use of deadly force and proper tactics for pedestrian stops.

“As a result of the absences of these policies, procedures and training, the deputies involved in the underlying incident were not prepared to safely deal with the circumstances and improperly used unnecessary and unreasonable force against Andy Lopez Cruz,” according to the claims.

The sheriff’s office also is accused of negligently hiring and retaining the two deputies who “have had prior incidents of excessive force,” and of failing to properly discipline them or terminate their employment. Both deputies are on paid administrative leave.

Goldstein said the allegations are “hyperbole that does a disservice to the dialog in the community that is trying to understand what happened.”

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas would not comment on the allegations in the three wrongful death claims and he referred questions to the county counsel’s office.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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