Task Force Will be Created to Review Officer-Involved Shootings

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will begin appointing people to the task force Tuesday.

By Bay City News

In the wake of the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff's deputy, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will begin appointing a Community and Law Enforcement Task Force that will consider recommending a process for an independent citizen's review of officer-involved shootings.

The 21-member task force's options include recommending a citizen review board, a police review/citizen oversight review board, a police review/citizen's appeal board or an independent citizen auditor.

In Sonoma County, a Grand Jury currently reviews the Sonoma County District Attorney's report on its investigation of officer-involved shootings. That report decides whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.

The Task Force also could retain the Grand Jury review process. 

Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times within 10 seconds as the teen walked along Moorland Avenue in Santa Rosa with an airsoft BB gun that resembled an AK-47 rifle on Oct. 22. 

According to Santa Rosa police who are investigating the fatal shooting, Gelhaus said he ordered Lopez to drop the gun, then shot him as the barrel of the BB gun rose as Lopez turned toward him.

There have been at least 9 marches and protests since the shooting. Protesters and community members have called for Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch to arrest and indict Gelhaus, and for an independent citizen's review of the shooting and Gelhaus' actions.

Lopez's family has filed a federal civil rights violation lawsuit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County. The suit claims there exists an "unconstitutional custom and practice" at the sheriff's office regarding the deadly use of force.

Each of the five county supervisors will appoint three members to the Community and Law Enforcement Task Force. Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas will appoint three members, the Mayor of Santa Rosa will appoint two and the County District Attorney will appoint one member. 

The Task Force's first recommendations are due in February 2014 and its final recommendations are due in December 2014.

Two weeks after the Lopez shooting, the Board of Supervisors held a lengthy discussion on community healing. 

The public comments at the hearing led to several recommendations, including the task force. 

The task force also will consider options for community policing to be included in next year's budget, reviewing whether the office of the coroner should be separated from the sheriff's office, and informing the supervisors of any additional feedback from the community. 

Other recommendations for the Board of Supervisors to consider are holding town hall meetings with "underserved communities" to discuss "inclusion, healing and disparity in services," supporting state and federal legislation on gun and replica weapon control.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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