Hundreds Protest Police Killing of Santa Rosa Eighth-Grader

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department released this photo of a replica assault rifle they say a 13-year-old boy was carrying when shot and killed by deputies.
The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department released this photo of a replica assault rifle they say a 13-year-old boy was carrying when shot and killed by deputies.

Also on KQED's News Fix: Coroner: Deputy Shot Santa Rosa Teenager Seven Times

Update, 8:45 a.m. Thursday: The fatal police shooting of a 13-year-old in Santa Rosa earlier this week prompted hundreds of people to protest Wednesday night. Here's the Santa Rosa Press Democrat account:

A Sonoma County sheriff's deputy's fatal shooting of a Santa Rosa eighth-grader Tuesday sent several hundred people to streets Wednesday night to mourn and demand answers as to how deputies mistook a BB gun for an AK-47-style assault rifle.

A march of families and neighbors moved down Corby and Moorland avenues toward the site where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed, chanting “We need justice” as passing cars honked.

“We don't know the reason why they killed him; they should know if a gun is real,” said one marcher, Katia Ontiveros, 18, who said Lopez was her brother's friend.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday: At a press conference at Santa Rosa's Finley Community Center this afternoon, new details were released about the Tuesday shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Sonoma County sheriff's deputies.

Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is handling the investigation, displayed the "toy" or "replica" gun Andy was holding alongside a real AK-47 assault rifle. According to Bay City News, Henry said "Andy's gun had a thinner barrel that was 6 to 8 inches shorter than the real rifle and was colored differently but was missing the orange plastic tip that typical differentiates a fake gun from a real one."

The Press Democrat describes the toy and real weapons as being "remarkably similar," but adds:

... In the light of the Finley Center the model Lopez carried was clearly plastic with a transparent center section. The BB gun also had a shorter barrel. Henry noted that the orange or red tip often found on toy guns appeared to be missing from the model Lopez carried.

The BCN report continues:

After spotting Andy and stopping their marked patrol car with the top rotating lights activated about 20 to 30 feet from him, the deputies called for backup, sheltered behind the open car door and ordered Andy to "put the gun down," Henry said.

Andy, wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt and shorts, was walking  with his back to the two deputies. After they yelled the order, he started turning around and as he did one of the deputies said he saw the barrel of the gun rising and turning toward him, according to Henry.

The deputy, fearing for his safety and knowing that style of gun could penetrate body armor, the metal exterior of the patrol car and the walls of the houses nearby, fired several rounds at Andy, striking him at  least once, Henry said.

Andy immediately fell to the ground. The deputies approached him and handcuffed him and realized he was unresponsive.

Original post:
Law-enforcement agencies are investigating a Tuesday afternoon shooting on the outskirts of Santa Rosa in which two Sonoma County sheriff's deputies shot and killed an eighth-grader carrying what's being described as a "toy" or "replica" version of an AK-47 assault rifle.

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The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports deputies spotted 13-year-old Andy Lopez carrying the object in a neighborhood on the southern edge of the city at 3 p.m. Tuesday According to a statement from the Sheriff's Department, here's what happened next:

[The deputies] immediately called for an emergency response from other deputies and officers that were in the area. The two deputies repeatedly ordered the subject to drop the rifle and at some point immediately thereafter, the deputies fired several rounds from their handguns at the subject striking him several times. The subject fell to the ground and landed on top of the rifle he was carrying.

After several commands ordering the subject to move away from the rifle deputies approached and placed him in handcuffs. At this point the subject was unresponsive. After securing the rifle the deputies began administering first aid and requested emergency medical aid from fire and ambulance. The subject was pronounced deceased at the scene by the responding paramedics. ...

... Once the scene was secured deputies learned that the rifle was a replica of an assault weapon. When the deputies searched the subject they also found a plastic hand gun in his waistband.

Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting.

Among the questions not answered by the sheriff's account so far is how much time elapsed between the time deputies ordered the teen-ager to drop the object or how the teen responded to the order.

The Press Democrat also reports that Lopez had attended Cook Middle School until earlier this week. Administrators there informed teachers and students of his death:

“We're having a tough day,” said Assistant Principal Linsey Gannon. “Our community has been rocked by this tragedy.”

Lopez had gone to Cook for seventh grade and up until Friday was an eighth grader at the Sebastopol Road school.

At Cook he was well known and well liked, said Gannon. She said he also played trumpet in the school band.

“He was a very popular student, very smart, very capable,” Gannon said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas issued a statement on the shooting Wednesday that reads in part:

As a father of two boys about this age, I can't begin to imagine the grief this family is going through. This is a tragedy on many levels…for the terrible loss of Andy Lopez, his family, the family's loved ones, friends, our community, and the members of the Sheriff's Office. ...

The public expects that the investigation will be thorough and transparent. As Sheriff, I will do all in my power to see that expectation is satisfied.

My hope is that we can work with the community to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.

The Sheriff's Department says that, following normal protocol after a deputy-involved shooting, Santa Rosa and Petaluma police and the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office are all investigating the incident. The unidentified officers who killed Lopez have been placed on administrative leave — also routine procedure after a shooting.

Tuesday's incident was the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Sonoma County this year. It was also one of three fatal police shootings in the Bay Area in 24 hours. The two other incidents:

  • The San Jose Mercury News reports that San Bruno police killed an auto-theft suspect, Ryan Salonga, 25, of San Francisco. Police say Salonga drove toward an officer early Tuesday morning while trying to get out of a dead-end street. They say the officer opened fire because he feared for his life.
  • On Monday night, the Chronicle reports, a Union City police officer killed a man who allegedly threatened him with a pipe.

 

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There are many questions surrounding this tragic event. To find out more, KQED's Mina Kim spoke with Peter Keane, Dean Emeritus at Golden Gate University Law School.

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