By SEAN SCULLY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hundreds of protesters converged on the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, demanding a variety of actions in the wake of the shooting last year of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
“We don’t care about your procedures,” activist Magick Altman told the supervisors, drawing cheers from the raucous crowd. “They have allowed Gelhaus to return to work while Andy’s family has a bullet hole in its heart.”
Lopez was shot to death as he walked along Moorland Avenue south of Santa Rosa on Oct. 22 after Gelhaus mistook an airsoft-style BB-gun he was carrying for a real assault rifle. Gelhaus has returned to work, but not to street patrol, after seven weeks on administrative leave. It is up to District Attorney Jill Ravitch to decide whether he will face any criminal charges in the incident, though she has not set a date for making that determination.
Protesters on Tuesday waived signs demanding that Gelhaus be prosecuted and accusing the department of systematic brutality. Many held up mirrors, a gesture organizers said was to force the supervisors to reflect on their role in failing to prevent this and other shootings of civilians by officers.
Santa Rosa resident Ana Salgado said she feels as if the supervisors and other officials are teaching officers “that we are the enemy; we are not the enemy.”
“You can feel the arrogance of the officials, the officers, from a mile away,” she said in Spanish, speaking through a translator.
Supervisors said little in response to the remarks, which were often bitterly critical of the board. Chairman David Rabbitt sought to outline some actions the board has taken in the wake of the shooting, but he was shouted down by the crowd. He spent the rest of the meeting largely in silence.
Earlier in the day, however, the board made good on a promise made shortly after the shooting, appointing 19 of the 21 members to the newly formed “Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force,” a panel designed to hear community concerns and recommend possible policy reforms, including some kind of civilian review panel for law enforcement agencies. The other two members were named later Tuesday by Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley.
The panel’s first meeting will be Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. at the county’s Department of Human Services office at 2227 Capricorn Way in Santa Rosa. The agenda and other details will be posted on the county website later this week, staff said.
Protesters, however, seemed to find this and other gestures by the board to be inadequate. “We don’t want review” of police actions, longtime Occidental activist Mary Moore said. “We want oversight; there is a big difference.”
She and others criticized the board for failing to enact a series of recommendations by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that called for new training, policies, and independent oversight for police agencies in Sonoma County after a series of shootings by officers in the 1990s.
Tuesday’s protest was peaceful but often disorderly, with the audience cheering, jeering and shouting out, often in profane terms. Sheriff’s deputies were out in unusual force, but there did not appear to be any confrontations between officers and protesters.
Some in the crowd directed particular venom toward Rabbitt, who has been harshly criticized by some in the Latino community after an independent group issued a flier during the 2010 election attacking Rabbitt’s opponent for supporting the idea of developing a “sanctuary” program for undocumented immigrants in the county.
A few also attacked Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the board’s only Latino member, saying he does not support his community and noting his arrest last year on suspicion of trying to break into a woman’s apartment in the early hours of a weekend day. He has apologized for the incident and blamed alcohol abuse, for which he has sought treatment. He is facing trial this year on a misdemeanor charge of “peeking.”
Susan Lamont, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Center in Sebastopol, dismissed all members of the board, saying they are part of “a power structure that does not serve this community.”
The protest movement, she said, “is about institutional neglect, and sometimes outright institutional hostility” toward minorities and the poor.