"The promotion of Gelhaus is disgraceful," said Courtney Cox, 21, a Santa Rosa Junior College student. "Freitas needs to demote this person, he needs to fire Gelhaus."
But to Freitas and others in the department, Gelhaus is highly qualified for his new job as a sergeant supervising eight to 10 deputies on a shift. Gelhaus applied for the position, and the Sheriff's Office cited his 26 years of experience in the department and numerous awards during his service career as top reasons for Gelhaus' rise in rank.
"The sheriff believes that Erick is clearly deserving of a promotion to supervisor," wrote Sgt. Spencer Crum. "Erick continues to serve his community on patrol with dignity, pride and respect."
Gelhaus' pay increased 10 percent from $49.19 to $55 per hour. In 2015, he was paid more than $134,000, including overtime, according to state salary records on Transparent California.
Michael Vail, president of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Association, fully backs Gelhaus' promotion.
"We are very proud of him and what he has done for this office and for the community in the years of his service," Vail said.
Vail said the Lopez death was a "tragedy for everyone involved, including Erick," but that Gelhaus acted within the scope of the law.
On the afternoon of Oct. 22, 2013, Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times after mistaking the replica gun the teen was carrying for a real AK-47. According to the county district attorney’s report, the whole incident -- from Gelhaus' spotting Lopez and calling for backup to reports of shots fired -- took about 19 seconds.
Gelhaus, an experienced firearms instructor and U.S. Army veteran, later told investigators he feared for his life. Lopez's replica gun lacked an orange tip meant to identify it as a toy gun.
A federal lawsuit by Lopez's family against Gelhaus and Sonoma County is still in court. But the Sonoma County district attorney determined criminal charges against Gelhaus were not warranted. The U.S. Department of Justice also cleared Gelhaus of civil rights violations after its investigation.
Still, the perception of Gelhaus among local civilians can be drastically different than the view inside the Sheriff's Office.
In 2014, members of a county task force to improve police-community relations after the Lopez incident sent Sheriff Freitas a letter urging him to remove Gelhaus from street patrol due to public concerns.
Residents like Gloria Hernandez, who had known Lopez since he was a little boy, said Freitas' decision to promote Gelhaus in May further erodes her trust in law enforcement.
"We feel hurt, we feel frustrated, with so much pain in seeing how the child died like that," said Hernandez in Spanish. "So we say, what trust are we going to have in them? None. This way? None."
Separate Civilian Complaint Against Gelhaus Before Lopez's Death
Jeffrey Westbrook, who has lived in Santa Rosa since 2007, says the first-ever encounter he had with Gelhaus during a traffic stop left him with serious concerns.
Westbrook had been driving his black BMW the morning of Aug. 21, 2013, heading to work at an IT company. He alleges that during the stop, Gelhaus pointed a gun at him without reasonable cause.
"Seeing a weapon put in your face ... I was speechless. I mean my hands went in the air," said Westbrook, 60. "My passenger looked up and said 'Oh my God. We almost got killed.'"
Westbrook disputed the ticket Gelhaus gave him -- for an allegedly unsafe lane change -- and a Sonoma County Superior Court judge later threw it out.
Westbrook also filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office and received a response a few months later. The sheriff's internal affairs unit wrote to him that its investigation determined the complaint unfounded.
Because that traffic stop occurred just two months before Gelhaus shot Lopez, Westbrook says he often laments not complaining more vigorously.
"If I had gone down there and waved my arms like a big gorilla and caused hell maybe they would have pulled (Gelhaus) aside," Westbrook said. "Maybe that kid would still be alive."
Peter Keane, a former chief assistant public defender and police commissioner in San Francisco, says that length of service and the popularity of officers among colleagues matters much more than civilian complaints for promotions in most law enforcement agencies nationwide.
"Promotion within that agency and the way those officers move up is almost never affected by whether or not there have been any kind of complaints against the officer," said Keane, who has nearly 50 years of experience with the criminal justice system.
Keane has seen that even when counties and cities have paid out large sums for civil lawsuits because of an officer's misconduct, managers still promote that officer through the ranks.
The impact, according to Keane, is less accountability and less safety because civilians often won't trust their law enforcement agency enough to report crimes.
Brand-New Independent Auditor of Complaints
In an effort to increase public trust, Sonoma County has opened a county office to audit the sheriff's investigations of civilian complaints against officers. It was set up as a direct result of nearly two years of community meetings after Andy Lopez's death.
Threet says he'll be able to watch sheriff's investigations as they are happening. He says he and one assistant -- the office's total staff -- will have access to body-cam videos, recordings of interviews with witnesses and documents to determine if investigations are unbiased and thorough.
"Our office will say whether we agree with those findings or whether we think that they're incorrect and there should have been a different finding on the complaint," said Threet, a former San Francisco deputy city attorney.
Threet can't require the sheriff to discipline deputies. But citizens can now bring complaints to Threet so he can follow up.
"The sheriff's department fully understands that there is a challenge right now with community relations, particularly with the Latino community ... and they are eager to start grappling with that," Threet said.