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OPINION - Justice for Andy Lopez

Sep 1, 2018

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By Kathleen Finigan

The US Supreme Court has rejected Sonoma County’s last-ditch appeal to keep Sgt. Erick Gelhuas from facing trial. The Iraq war veteran has been charged with the 2013 wrongful shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez as the boy walked down a neighborhood street with a toy rifle. This is the fourth failed appeal, which has thus far cost the County some $4 million in taxpayer dollars.

In a desperate attempt to save face, Assistant Sheriff Clint Shubel said, “We want to get clarity and guidance from the courts.” But observers say that four court decisions against granting immunity to Gelhaus couldn’t be more clear. The US District Court in Oakland, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a second denial for a rehearing with the 9th Circuit and now the Supreme Court have all turned down the case.

Judge Milan D. Smith of the 9th Circuit, found that “a reasonable jury could find that Gelhaus’ use of deadly force was not objectively reasonable...Andy did not pose an immediate threat to law enforcement officials and therefore the law was clearly established at the time of the shooting that Gelhaus’ conduct was unconstitutional.”

When Gelhaus is on the stand, jurors will hear of his many writings for SWAT and other paramilitary magazines about how police can justify killings. In one, he wrote: Law enforcement is a contact sport. If you find yourself in the kill zone, you need to turn on your mean gene... Today is the day you may need to kill somebody in order to go home.”

He holds in high admiration Jay Cooper, owner of the Gunsite Academy where he works as an instructor, who has written that,“The greatest warrior who ever lived,” was Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel, an SS sniper for Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

Gelhaus posted a perversion of the popular “Coexist” bumper sticker on his Facebook page with a Nazi totenkopf, a skull pin that Hitler awarded to his concentration camp guards in recognition of prisoners killed.

COEXIST bumper sticker with a Nazi totenkopf

In Gelhaus’ ghastly version the “O” is the crosshairs of a gunsight and the totenkopf replaces the “X.”

A jury will hear Gelhaus’ testimony that Andy “didn’t turn towards me when I shot him.” He also admitted that he doesn’t know if Andy’s gun was ever pointed at him. In a video deposition, Gelhaus is shown replicating Andy’s stance with the toy gun in his left hand and turning to the point when he fired off eight shots in six seconds at the boy. “It was this,” he said. Andy’s rifle was pointing straight down at the ground: vimeo.com/249042207

A jury will also hear the testimony of Jeff Westbrook of Santa Rosa who two months before Andy’s death was pulled over by Gelhaus for failing to signal a lane change. Gelhaus pulled a gun on Westbrook as he walked up to the car and Westbrook felt so troubled by the officer’s demeanor that he asked, “Sir, is there something wrong with you? “ Westbrook later said that “I felt like I was watching somebody I needed to help.” His complaint to Gelhaus’ superior officer was ignored.

Most observers agree that the county’s case is dead in the water and their best bet will be to keep Gelhaus off the witness stand and settle the case without further delay. Perhaps now the Lopez family will at long last see the light of justice in this unspeakable tragedy.

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