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Andy Lopez shooting rekindles call for civilian review process in Sonoma County

  • Neighbors and friends of Andy Lopez visit the growing memorial where he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy near the corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues in Santa Rosa on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Swelling unrest about the death of a 13-year-old boy who was shot seven times by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy this week has renewed calls for independent civilian review mechanisms that supporters say would enhance police accountability and ensure public confidence in the process.

Social justice activists say the public deserves assurances that police shootings will be subject to a level of impartial examination. They contend the current protocol, which uses neighboring law enforcement agencies to investigate each other, is inherently flawed.

“I'm not convinced that civilian review is a perfect process, by any means,” said Robert Edmonds, a longtime law enforcement watchdog. “But I think it's worth having a discussion and looking at some of the models, and doing something differently than whatever we're doing now that doesn't seem to stop people from being killed.”

Protest March For Andy Lopez 10.25.13

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Law enforcement officials say Sonoma County's civilian grand jury already provides citizen oversight of officer-involved deaths.

But supporters of civilian review, like the Sonoma County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, say the death of eighth-grader Andy Lopez underscores a long-standing need to have independent citizen bodies examine police use of force.

“Only such an independent investigation can supply the facts needed for corrective recommendations and give the public confidence in the actions of the agents pledged to protect our community,” the 10-member ACLU chapter board said in a written statement Thursday.

“We need outside investigation,” said longtime Occidental activist Mary Moore. “That's the bottom line.”

The two sheriff's deputies involved in Lopez's death were on patrol in his southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood Tuesday when they spotted him walking down the street with what turned out to be a BB gun designed to resemble an AK-47 assault rifle.

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