Sep 27, 2017
By Jay Foxworthy
As a law enforcement officer, I always wince when I hear of an officer-involved shooting. I hoped and prayed that this was some insane incident that would exonerate the officer involved. Not because of a blue code of silence, but because as a father of a brown thirteen-year-old son, this shooting hit way too close to home. Sadly, to say the more information that came out, the more I started to question the legality of the shooting and felt a deep sense of anger and betrayal by the picture being painted locally.
My first indication of there being a local problem with shootings like Andy’s wasn’t because of the information being told about the actual shooting, but what was being said about Andy. It did not take long before the local press and Sheriff’s Department started releasing statements about Andy that shed doubt on his character. “Why wasn’t Andy in School? Andy was a drug addict… and could have been an active gang member.” These statements released from the press after Andy’s death were a way to demonize the victim of a shooting long before the true facts of the case had been revealed. Demonizing the victim allows many in our community to mentally check out. Their thought process becomes, “Andy couldn’t have been like my kid, because my kid is a good kid.”
The actual shooting itself angered me, both as a human being and an officer. I naturally went into “Monday night quarterback” mode and questioned what I would have done if put in the same situation. Why did Deputy Gelhaus feel the need to respond so quickly to an unknown subject with a gun? Surely this must have been an active shooter scenario where the officer had been dispatched to the scene on high alert? But the answer to that was no. If the calls were not coming in about Andy aiming his weapon at people and making terrorists threats then, obviously, Andy was a known threat to Gelhaus?...Also no.
I wanted to give Deputy Gelhaus the benefit of the doubt, but in no way could I put myself in his shoes on the day Andy Lopez was shot. We have been training officers for at least ten years to slow down and evaluate situations before using deadly force. Furthermore, Deputy Gelhaus was reported to be a seasoned officer with 24 years on the force and a firearms instructor. There was nothing in the early accounts that warranted a seasoned officer such as Gelhaus to respond in the way he did. And as a father of a thirteen-year-old Latino boy, I was angry. This could have been my son.
Today we know a lot more about the actual details that led to Andy’s death. We have more than a simple narrative meant to blame the victim and exonerate the shooting officer. From these facts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Sonoma County and Officer Gelhaus. If you have not read the ruling, I recommend that everyone take the time to educate themselves on the facts. The three-judge panel found that, “Gelhaus deployed deadly force while Andy was standing on the sidewalk holding a gun that was pointed down at the ground. Gelhaus also shot Andy without having warned Andy that such force would be used, and without observing any aggressive behavior. Pursuant to Graham V. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), a reasonable jury could find that Gelhaus’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable”.
I agreed with the court’s decision and no matter what your opinions are of Law Enforcement or Andy Lopez, we need to understand those facts so that we are able to decide as a community, what it is we want from our public safety. Not because of the millions of dollars this case will cost our county, but because we want all of the people in our county to be safe. That includes Law Enforcement and people of color.
My son has smoked pot and has done some pretty stupid things as a teenager, that does not mean I want him to be another Andy. It’s time the County stops trying to defend itself, puts this case to bed, and allows us all to grieve for this tragedy.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declares Erik Gelhaus used excessive force: The panel held that viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, as the panel was required to do at this stage of the proceedings, Gelhaus deployed deadly force while Andy was standing on the sidewalk holding a gun that was pointed down at the ground. Gelhaus also shot Andy without having warned Andy that such force would be used, and without observing any aggressive behavior. Pursuant to Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), a reasonable jury could find that Gelhaus’s use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable.
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