By Kurtis Alexander 8/18/14
The Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy last year outside Santa Rosa after mistaking his replica AK-47 pellet gun for a real rifle has been cleared to return to patrol duties this week.
Officer Erick Gelhaus, who was assigned to administrative work while the Oct. 22 shooting was investigated, said he shot the boy, Andy Lopez, because he feared for his life. Reviews of the incident by the sheriff’s office and county district attorney cleared Gelhaus of any crime.
The shooting just southwest of Santa Rosa triggered an outcry from many residents in the mostly Latino neighborhood. They say Gelhaus should have been charged and fired, and in any event should not be allowed to resume patrol work. A small demonstration was held Saturday to protest his return.
The Sheriff’s Department confirmed Monday that Gelhaus was cleared for full duty, but officials would not say exactly when he would start or where he would be assigned.
“There’s nothing prohibiting him from working anywhere in the county,” said Sgt. Cecile Focha.
Gelhaus is a 24-year veteran of the department with broad experience with guns as a firearms instructor, hunter and Iraq War veteran.
“He certainly understands community concerns, but knows that his extensive training and experience will benefit the community that he has sworn to protect and serve,” said his attorney, Terry Leoni. “He welcomes the opportunity to return to patrol, and will continue to proudly serve his community.”