by Elbert ‘Big Man’ Howard
On Oct. 22, 2013, in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot and killed unarmed, 13-year-old Andy Lopez without cause. Gelhaus, a trained weapons instructor and firearms expert, fired eight shots at Andy, hitting him seven times.
This murder by cop occurred on a beautiful sunny afternoon in the Moorland neighborhood of Santa Rosa – a neighborhood of mostly Latino people, people with a long history of having to deal with the presence of the occupying force of these sheriff’s deputies.
Andy Lopez had committed no crime and no one had called the police about him, yet Gelhaus and his partner acted as if they were in a combat zone on a “search and destroy” mission.
After much legal wrangling and excuse-making, Gelhaus was cleared of any wrongdoing by Sonoma County DA Jill Ravitch and was not charged.
Andy was buried and his family, friends, supporters and community were left to their pain and grief, as Gelhaus was returned to active patrol duty. So much for justice for Andy.
So here we are, almost three years later and now the news that Deputy Gelhaus has been promoted to sergeant with a pay increase from $49.19 to $55 an hour. He is now responsible for overseeing and instructing eight to 10 deputies per shift.
This is outrageous and Sheriff Freitas, who is responsible for this promotion, is of course, justifying this heinous decision, loudly and clearly.
A 23-year veteran law enforcement officer and U.S. Army vet, who claims that he feared for his life when he instantly shot and assassinated a 13-year-old child, is not fit to be a law enforcement officer, much less a trainer and supervisor of other deputies.
His promotion is another disgusting demonstration of how those “in charge” of the so-called justice system in this county have no regard for human life and absolutely no connection to or regard for the residents of this community – just one other outrageous act which reminds us constantly that there is no justice here at all.
Elbert “Big Man” Howard is a founding member of the Black Panther Party and is an author, lecturer and community activist in Sonoma County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.