SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – The Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez in 2013 has been promoted to sergeant, a sheriff’s office spokesman confirmed Friday.
Erick Gelhaus, 51, and another deputy, Mechelle Buchignani, were promoted in May during a civil service promotion process, sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.
Gelhaus will oversee eight to 10 deputies who patrol four zones in unincorporated Sonoma County, and his hourly pay will increase from $49.10 to $55.02, Crum said.
Two other deputies, James Percy and Ryan Russell, have been promoted to sergeants since May, Crum said.
Gelhaus is an Iraq war veteran and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He has been with the sheriff’s office 26 years, Crum said.
Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times on Oct. 22, 2013, as the teen walked along Moorland Avenue outside southwest Santa Rosa with a BB pellet rifle designed to look like an assault weapon.
Gelhaus told investigators he ordered Lopez to drop the rifle, but the barrel of the rifle rose as Lopez turned toward Gelhaus and another deputy outside their patrol car.
Protests and demands that Gelhaus be fired and prosecuted followed the shooting, but Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch determined charges would not be filed against Gelhaus because the shooting, though tragic, was lawful under the circumstances.
Gelhaus was placed on leave but returned to duty in August 2014.
Crum said Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas knows Gelhaus’ promotion will upset some people, but the vast majority of the public want Freitas to follow the rules providing opportunities for promotion.
“He has a moral and legal duty to do so,” Crum said.
“He doesn’t want to treat him any differently than any other deputy who tested for the position,” Crum said.
“The promotion process is overseen by the county’s Human Resources Board but the Sheriff has the final say,” Crum said.
The Lopez family has filed a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against the county, the Sheriff’s Office and Gelhaus.
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