ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Sonoma County, Calif., is probably best known for its good wines, green sensibilities and otherwise healthy and peaceful living, but that peace was shattered last week. A county sheriff's deputy shot and killed a young teenager who was carrying a toy gun. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports the shooting has provoked much grief, and raised questions about police relations with the Latino community.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The streets of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County seat, were filled with several hundred angry but otherwise peaceful protesters yesterday. They were demanding a transparent investigation into the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Andy. Andy. Andy. Andy...
GONZALES: Lopez was walking through an open field near his home in semi-rural Southwest Santa Rosa on Oct. 22nd when he was spotted by two sheriff's deputies. Lopez was carrying a plastic pellet gun, a toy replica of an AK-47. But it did not have an orange tip on the barrel indicating that it was a toy, as required by federal law. The deputies yelled for Lopez to drop the weapon, says Santa Rosa Police Lt. Paul Henry.
LT. PAUL HENRY: As the subject was turning toward him, the barrel of the assault rifle was rising up and turning in his direction. The deputy feared for his safety, the safety of his partner, and the safety of the community members in the area.
GONZALES: Deputy Erick Gelhaus fired eight shots, striking Lopez seven times. The other deputy, a trainee whose name has not been released, never left the patrol car and didn't discharge his weapon. An investigation is still pending. The killing has sparked nearly daily protests and vigils in the mostly Latino neighborhood. Yesterday's protest, the largest so far and dominated by high school and college students, also attracted a lot of mothers.
CATARINA GUDINO: I have a lot of hate and, you know, it's hurtful. I mean, it could have been my son.
GONZALES: Catarina Gudino brought her 13-year-old son to the protest.
GUDINO: I can't even imagine losing a child. And especially the way he died, it's just he didn't have a chance. There was no chance at all. They were shooting to kill, you know? (Pauses, sighs) It's sad.
GONZALES: Gudino says there's also a history of tense relations between police and the Latino community in Southwest Santa Rosa, tensions that seem to have eased recently. Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo says the healing process can't begin too soon.
EFREN CARRILLO: A tragic event occurred. We all bear the responsibility. If we're going to point the finger at this point, we ought to be pointing it at ourselves as a community so that this doesn't happen again. And we need to start building from that.
GONZALES: Carrillo says he's looking for a way to start a public discussion about police and community relations as well as the prevalence of replica guns. Meanwhile, the FBI has begun its own investigation, to determine whether there were any federal civil rights violations in the shooting death of Andy Lopez.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)