Family of Boy Shot Dead for Holding a Toy Gun File Lawsuit
The family members of a 13-year-old boy who was killed by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in 2013 for holding a toy gun have filed a lawsuit against the county
In October 2013, deputy Erick Gelhaus and another deputy Michael Schemmel saw Andy Lopez walking on a sidewalk and thought that he was carrying an AK-47. The orange tip, which would have identified the gun as a toy, had been removed. They stopped their car and Gelhaus shouted to drop the gun. Lopez then turned around, stilling holding the gun in one hand. Gelhaus then fired eight shots and the boy died right there.
In 2016, federal judge Milan Smith ruled that a jury should decide if Gelhaus used excessive force or not.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that Andy did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,” he said.
Judge Smith added that “Andy was walking normally … in broad daylight in a residential neighborhood,” and did not display “aggressive behavior,” and the deputy “deployed deadly force while Andy was on the sidewalk holding a gun that was pointed down at the ground.”
Lawyers for Deputy Gelhaus said the lawsuit should be thrown out because Gelhaus thought the toy gun was an AK-47 rifle and was afraid for his life when the 13-year-old turned around and raised the gun. However, the justices denied a review of the appeal on Monday.
Gerald Peters, a lawyer for the family, said that this is good news. He said that a police officer’s discretion to determine whether lives are at risk “doesn’t mean the officer has a free ride to keep on shooting indiscriminately.”
The parents of Lopez are suing the county for unspecified damages.
This isn’t the first time police have been accused of unjustly killing a teen. In April, the mother of a 17-year-old boy who was shot by police while backing a minivan out of the garage filed a lawsuit against the Overland Police Department.
Police rushed to John Albers’ home when the teen threatened suicide on FaceTime. When the police got there, Albers was alone in the house and then got into the minivan in the garage. He then opened the garage door and backed the minivan down the driveway when he was fatally shot.
“A vehicle passing a police officer does not give that officer an ongoing license to kill an unthreatening citizen,” the lawsuit says.
If you believe a loved one has suffered from a wrongful death lawsuit, do not hesitate to reach out to Cohen & Cohen to set up your free consultation.