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Sonoma County Sheriff promotes deputy who shot, killed Andy Lopez

The Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa in 2013 has been promoted to sergeant, a sheriff’s spokesman said Friday.

Erick Gelhaus, a 26-year department veteran, was promoted in May after taking part in a competitive, civil-service process, Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

The move, approved by Sheriff Steve Freitas, came about 2 ½ years after the controversial shooting that sparked protests about police use of force and calls for civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies. Gelhaus was cleared of wrongdoing following a lengthy investigation.

With the promotion, Gelhaus, 51, received a pay boost from $49.19 to $55 per hour. He made $134,000 a year in 2015, according to published reports.

Gelhaus was “highly qualified” and “ranked highly on our list” of deputies eligible for promotion to sergeant, Crum said.

He was previously a field training officer, firearms instructor and is an Iraq War veteran, Crum said.

In the new position, he supervises eight to 10 deputies patrolling central Sonoma County.

His promotion drew criticism from activists. The North Bay Organizing Project posted on Facebook the sheriff’s office promoted an “openly white supremacist cop.” The group’s director, Susan Shaw, said the system failed to hold him accountable for killing a Latino child.

“It’s an affront to our community,” Shaw said.

Crum said Freitas expected unhappiness from some over the promotion. But Freitas thinks a majority of the public wants him to abide by rules allowing employees to pursue career advancement, Crum said.

“Providing opportunities for his members to promote is not only moral duty, but a legal and human right,” Crum said. “He followed the law, rules and policy by promoting Sgt. Gelhaus and he refused to treat him any differently than any other deputy who tested for the position.”

Lopez, an eighth-grader at Cook Middle School, was shot and killed by Gelhaus in October 2013, as he walked along a Southwest Santa Rosa street carrying an airsoft BB gun resembling an AK-47. Gelhaus said he mistook the replica for a real firearm.

Lopez’s parents are suing the county, Sheriff’s Office and Gelhaus, contending the deputy was negligent in the fatal shooting.

Check back later for more on this breaking story.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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