A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy is back on duty just six weeks after he shot a 13-year-old boy seven times for carrying a plastic BB gun.
On October 22, Dep. Erick Gelhaus and a trainee responded to reports of a boy armed with an AK-47 walking along Moorland Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa. Gelhaus drove up behind Middle School student Andy Lopez in a patrol car and ordered him to stop.
When Lopez turned around with the ‘gun’ raised, Gelhaus opened fire, killing the boy after shooting him seven times.
The “AK-47″ turned out to be a plastic airsoft toy gun that fires plastic BB pellets.
The encounter took place in the middle of a bright day and the toy gun had a transparent plastic middle, leading critics to contend that Gelhaus should have been able to ascertain that the toy was not a real AK-47 before opening fire.
The fact that Gelhaus was also a department armorer has prompted charges that he should have been able to identify the toy gun as a replica.
Gelhaus is already back on administrative duty and may return to patrol duty once an investigation of the incident has been concluded.
“He will remain on the desk assignment until District Attorney Jill Ravitch reviews an investigative report and makes a finding about whether he committed criminal wrongdoing,” reports the Press Democrat.
Website PoliceOne.com heralded Gelhaus’ return in a Facebook post which announced, “We’re glad to have you back, officer!”
Whether or not you believe Gelhaus was justified in shooting the teen dead (seven times seems a little excessive), the fact that he is back on the job within weeks and before any kind of investigation has been concluded is patently ludicrous.
Some have also pointed to a 2008 article written by Gelhaus which was published by SWAT magazine in which Gelhaus expressed trigger-happy sentiments.
“Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home. If you cannot turn on the `mean gene’ for yourself, who will?… Taking some kind of action — any kind of action — is critical,” he wrote.
Two months before the shooting, Gelhaus also pointed his gun at the head of terrified Santa Rosa resident Jeffrey Westbrook during what should have been a routine traffic stop.
“This is very, very, very bad news,” said Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Andy Lopez Organizing Group. “A large part of Sonoma County think of Gelhaus as a murderer. They think he’s dangerous. And we’ve seen through investigation that he’s had problems out on the street.”