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Law enforcement: Andy Lopez marches have cost $225,000

  • Demonstrators march towards the Sonoma County Sheriff's offices during a protest over the death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Protests over the killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy have provided a mostly peaceful outlet for those wishing to air their feelings of grief and outrage.

But they haven't been free.

Overtime for deputies and police officers monitoring about 10 marches from downtown Santa Rosa to the county government center have cost a combined $225,000, officials said Monday.

Andy Lopez Protest At City Hall

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The bulk of the expense — about $207,000 through Dec. 31 — was borne by the Sheriff's Office, which stationed deputies in riot gear outside its front doors and at the neighboring Hall of Justice during protests that drew up to 1,500 people.

“In these budgetary times, what I tell my staff is, any amount of money is significant,” Sheriff Steve Freitas said. “When you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is significant.”

Santa Rosa police officers racked up about $18,000 in overtime through Dec. 10. Acting Police Chief Hank Schreeder said the number does not include costs from a City Council meeting in which at least one protester carrying a cross was arrested.

He said expenses were kept to a minimum because most of the marches occurred during regular day shifts. But officers were pulled in from other assignments to watch the demonstrations, leaving other areas of the city unprotected.

“It has an impact on their whole community,” Schreeder said.

Protest organizers rejected any notion that they are to blame for the overtime costs. Jon Melrod, an organizer from Sebastopol, said there would be no expense if Deputy Erick Gelhaus hadn't shot and killed Lopez.

“Once there is wrongdoing people have a right to speak out,” Melrod said. “And that may cost. Democracy is expensive.”

The teenager was killed Oct. 22 while walking along Moorland Avenue with an airsoft BB gun. Gelhaus told investigators he thought Lopez was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. The veteran deputy told police he ordered the boy to drop the gun, then opened fire when Lopez turned and raised the barrel in his direction. He shot Lopez seven times.

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