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New allegations against Erick Gelhaus added to Andy Lopez lawsuit

  • Sujey Lopez Cruz, with husband Rodrigo Lopez, speaks during a press conference on Nov. 5, 2013, announcing their lawsuit Monday in San Francisco. On Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, Cruz and Lopez amended the lawsuit to cite alleged instances of excessive force by Erick Gelhaus, the sheriff's deputy who fatally shot their son, Andy Lopez. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The parents of 13-year-old Andy Lopez amended their federal lawsuit against the county Tuesday with new allegations about the deputy who killed their son as well as additional claims for damages under state law.

Rodrigo and Sujey Lopez of Santa Rosa allege in the 20-page document filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco that Deputy Erick Gelhaus had a history of using excessive force. The Sheriff's Office was aware of the incidents, the lawsuit said.

The amended lawsuit cites several incidents, including a 1996 case in which the 28-year veteran is accused of pulling his gun on a woman and her child in a neighborhood dispute. It also mentions an October case in which the deputy is accused of drawing his firearm on a man during a minor traffic stop.

Part of the lawsuit also accuses Gelhaus of having “racist and extremist tendencies and beliefs,” citing his association with a shooting academy whose founder it said had bigoted views.

The academy is not named. Jon Melrod, an organizer with a local group formed to protest Lopez's death, said it was the Arizona-based Gunsite Academy.

The lawsuit said Gelhaus blogged about his admiration for the founder, listed on the website as Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper. Gelhaus, a department firearms instructor, encouraged other deputies to attend, the lawsuit said.

In his own online writings for firearms magazines, Gelhaus espoused “questionable” tactics, including how officers must respond to justify shooting a child with a toy gun, the lawsuit said.

The teenager was killed Oct. 22 while walking along Moorland Avenue with an airsoft BB gun designed to resemble an assault rifle. Gelhaus told investigators he thought Lopez was armed with an AK-47. 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.

After the shooting, Gelhaus deleted his online comments to conceal his beliefs, the lawsuit said.

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