Police Shoot 13-Year-Old Then Realize He Had a Toy Gun

13-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was walking on a street near his house in southwest Santa Rosa around 3:00 pm on October 22 when Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who was in the passenger seat of a patrol car, and another unnamed deputy, who was driving, saw the eighth grader, who was carrying a toy gun.

Within just a few minutes, the middle-schooler would be dead after Gelhaus fired at him. Within a few days, many would be calling for Gelhaus to be arrested in almost daily protests (1,500 participated in one held the day after Andy’s funeral). A Facebook page, Justice For Andy Lopez, has been set up in memory of the middle schooler.

Andy’s family says that the deputy used “excessive force” in shooting at their son. The question is also being asked: shouldn’t it be easier to identify that a toy gun is indeed just that, especially when a middle-school-aged child is carrying one?

Did Deputy Gelhaus Use “Excessive Force”?

Lt. Paul Henry gives this account in the Mercury-News about what happened after Gelhaus saw Andy on October 22:

… Gelhaus said he knows he yelled at least once to Lopez to drop the rifle, but Gelhaus said he is unsure whether he identified himself as a sheriff’s deputy.

The hood was down on the sweatshirt Lopez was wearing and he was not wearing headphones or earbuds, Henry said.

A witness has said that he was driving in front of the deputies’ car and, on seeing Andy, “yelled at him ‘to put away the gun because police were coming.’”

Gelhaus fired eight bullets in ten seconds. Seven struck Lopez; two were fatal. Gelhaus handcuffed Lopez and saw that he had a plastic toy handgun in his waistband. The deputy performed CPR but Lopez died at the scene.

Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran, and the unnamed deputy, who has 11 years of law enforcement experience and was hired about a month ago, have both been placed on paid administrative leave. The Sonoma County police have been carrying out an investigation, which the FBI is also participating in.

Andy’s family filed a legal claim against Sonoma county in which they allege negligence and excessive force on the part of Gelhaus. They also say that he shot the teenager “without cause or provocation” due to training that “encourages deputies to prematurely shoot suspects who pose no threat or danger to deputies or the public at large.” The Sonoma County sheriff’s office was aware that “such tactics” were dangerous, as a result of “repeated incidences where deputies had unnecessarily and unjustifiably discharged their firearms.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Sonoma County stated that it was premature to file the lawsuit and that doing so has the “potential to interfere” with ongoing investigations into the shooting “which are key to providing an understanding of the events surrounding the tragedy.”

A Toy Gun That Looked Real

The shooting of Andy occurred the day after a middle schooler, 12-year-old Jose Reyes, brought a semi-automatic 9-mm pistol to Sparks Middle School in Nevada and fatally shot math teacher Michael Landsberry and wounded two students before killing himself. In the same week, on October 24, an 11-year-old middle school boy was arrested after bringing 400 rounds of ammunition, multiple knives and a handgun to Frontier Middle School.

Andy was carrying a pellet gun but Gelhaus, by his own account, “thought the gun was real and … felt threatened when the boy turned toward him.” Only after the deputy fired eight bullets in ten seconds at the 13-year-old did he realize that the gun was an airsoft rifle which fired plastic BBs.

Such replica guns that look exactly like real ones are not banned in California but they are elsewhere. Arkansas has banned replica guns that look like the real thing outright, the result of police killing 12-year-old Erik Sammis in West Memphis in 2007. New York City requires that replica guns be made in bright colors; in 1994, a 13-year-old boy carrying a toy gun like Andy’s was shot to death by law enforcement officers.

Back in 2011, California State Senator Kevin de León proposed a bill like New York City’s that would have required the BB guns to be brightly colored and clearly distinguishable from the real guns. As Think Progress points out, the NRA waged a fierce, and successful, campaign against the bill, claiming that it “would ban all air guns or would preempt federal law.” In the wake of Andy’s death, De León has been trying to reintroduce the bill.

On Monday, an attorney for the family is filing a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. But justice for Andy may be a long time coming: an analysis by SGGate.com has found that prosecutions of law enforcement officers in line-of-duty shootings are rare, including in cases involving boys the same age as Andy; in cases in which boys were holding toy guns.


Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for the article.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

Del, I appreciate your taking the time, but frankly your personal experiences are limited to those you know and the area you lived in.

It makes no difference whether you are an RN, a trauma surgeon, or an IRS agent.

I understand your comments about media flurries, but frankly that isn’t going to stand either.

Over the past several decades we have seen not only media coverage of police behavior, but we have also seen large numbers of video’s taken by citizens demonstrating to the contrary.

No matter how mice and respectable you want to make it, reality has shown us a different model and one that is increasing in scope.

The number of deaths by cop per year for more than several decades has been reported as 400 each year.

They aren’t reporting.

The police investigating themselves, as do the FBI does not provide an impartial judgment.

Try as you might, you will never succeed in rewriting what history, recent and past is showing us.

Del Rykert
Del Rykert2 years ago

cont.. and I also agree that not all officers should have ever been entrusted with a gun to protect the public but those cases I fortuantely have never seen first hand but have heard of them.. With all of our testing regarding joe public as well as officers don't catch all of the bad apples. Many don't know how they will react until in the sights of another deranged lunatic. I am not saying it applies in this case but I have heard of situations where kids playing with toy guns have added a laser pointer to their toy making it appear even more real. If some child swing the barrel of such a toy my direction I unfortuantely am going to assume a bullet with my name is next and will shoot first... All officers that I know follow the same protocal.. Until parents and children start learning how dangerous it is to emulate real weapons like in video games and war movies it will continue to have bad tragedies. I don't condone this particular officers shooting but I also realize I am gathering the rest of the facts after the fact in the comfort of my chair without any fear for my life. When that is reversed the outcome has a great potential to be reversed.

Del Rykert
Del Rykert2 years ago

Hi Michael.. Thanks for your reply.. Let me clarify I have been an R.N. for almost 40 years now.. I have been living with and around enoforcement people the majority of my life as well as license to carry in one of the most restrictive places in the union. Those are where my 3 close calls occured.. Two while working as an R.N. confronted by druggies assuming I was carrying drugs on me at the time which I wasn't but they didn't care anything about what I stated.
While I agree that on the cover it appears this officer was not justified in his shooting I don't know all of the background facts of what information this particualr officer has to work with.. every state and area have different escelation policies. Thus why they have I.A. do an investigation after every police shooting. While I feel the majority of those are thorough and deep investigations what does bother me deeply is when a media frenzy is fired up on most police officer shootings assuming the officer is guilty of every crime in the book. The court of public opinion can ruin a family and an officer so badly they leave the force. It is always easy to armchair quarterback a shooting when not in the heat of the moment. Any officers I have contact with go through extensive testing and have to repeatedly prove their worth and abilites as often as 4 times a year just to protect the public.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

Del I respect your previous service and your information about what some police face. I understand your need to defend the culture of police you remember and which probably existed in the department(s) you served in. Those cultures have changed. More and more reports and videos of police abuse, racism, and their militarization have arisen.
You should read some of the previous posts on this discussion.
There are a number of former officers and police department chiefs who are talking about how the culture you once served in has changed and not for the better.
But you can’t defend this officer who probably shouldn’t be an officer and should probably not ever have access to a gun. Within 10 seconds this guy reported a situation, challenged a child, shot him several times, killing him and called for emergency medical care. Stories of this officer’s previous behavior indicate he has psychological issues and should not be defending the public.

Del Rykert
Del Rykert2 years ago

.. I only had to do it 3 times on whole life.. Im pretty old now.. Del R.

Del Rykert
Del Rykert2 years ago

Valda P.. It is not completely the polices fault in many cases.. Don't forget the culture they are currently working in. Gang bangers that get prestige for shooting cops. Many illegally carry and police are on nervous alert when ever a gun call comes in. In this particular situation what parent knowing the current climate in society of gang bangers and shootings would a parent tell their child it is ok to play in front yard in residential or city area? Heck `~ kids are being expelled for making their breakfast looking like a gun,, with that attitude what responsible parent see nothing wrong with letting their child play outside with a toy gun? All blame shouldn't fall completly on the police in ever situation.. If anyone has a gun in their hands and turns towards me with that gun I am not going to assume they have nothing but deadly intent.. That is what all officers are taught.. If a perp doesn't respond to commands of police they have the right to escelate.. In this case one of the officers should have had their taser out as an after thought but neither of them knew it was a toy gun. They are in fear of their lives.. Police use their guns to protect themselves and fellow officers when in dangerous sitiuatons. Put yourself in their shoes. I don't justify this shooting. But I have been in dangerous situations and am alive because of making good decisions in bad situations. Police have to often do that daily on the job.. I only had to do it 3 times on whole life.. Im pret

valda p.
valda p.2 years ago

American police do -not have a good record with guns -they are always shooting -people and -dogs -they don't seem to know how to handle the -situation -shoot first and ask -questions later-this young boy had no chance -and wasn't given any either -doesn't seem he was threatening in any way- and why 8 shots?-one would have been enough-so sad a young boy has lost his life because of incompetence and negligence of duty.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

Thanks Robert.

Looks like the original story that I read and my assessment of the time frame were rather accurate.

In my assessment, this boy was murdered by an aggressive police officer without giving Lopez time to respond to his orders to drop the weapon. It is likely this officer suffers from PTSD. He shouldn't be a ilne officer and he shouldn't be the officer in his department training other police officers how to respond with their weapons.

He should also be prosecuted and found guilty of his behavior in what amounts to be the murder of a 13 year old boy..

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Thanks for the ingo Michael. Not a bit surpising. it was shown he shot him 7 times in under 6 seconds. He had NO time to drop anything.