SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — The family of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was fatally shot by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in 2013, has settled a lawsuit against the county.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning announced a $3 million settlement of the family’s federal excessive force civil lawsuit.
On October 22, 2013, Lopez was carrying an air gun made to look like an AK-47 assault rifle. The neon orange tip that would identify the gun as a toy had been broken off. Sheriff’s deputies patrolling the area in Santa Rosa saw Lopez with the gun and pulled up behind him.
When Deputy Erick Gelhaus ordered him to drop the weapon, Lopez turned toward the deputies and Gelhaus shot him eight times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lopez’s family sued Sonoma County in federal court, claiming the shooting violated Andy Lopez’s constitutional rights. That case was settled today for the $3 million dollar amount.
Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano spoke out on Tuesday about the settlement. He began with remarks about the family, “My heartfelt condolences go out to the family, I don’t even understand how hard this has been for them.”
Of the amount, Giordano said, “I don’t think any amount of money can replace a 13-year-old … I think it’s a step to help people move forward and I hope it’s a beginning for the family to move forward.”
Still, he defended Gehaus, who has since been promoted from deputy to sergeant, saying Gelhaus, “was cleared of all wrongdoing and I understand why he did what he did.”
When asked if the sheriff’s office had made any policy changes because of the shooting, Giordano said, “No. The reality is that our deputy was faced with a weapon that looked like a real weapon that day and we can’t change that fact.”
Giordano said his office has since gotten a “use of force” simulator so deputies can train on real life situations, and the department is working on its communications with the community. “We’re not just talking to the community, we’re listening to the community,” he said.
He also said the community has a role to play in preventing shooting deaths. “Please don’t buy fake weapons,” said Giordano. “If you have them, get rid of them.”