The story of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa has become well known. He is the young man who was spotted in Santa Rosa’s Moorland Avenue neighborhood by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies on October 22, 2013. He was carrying what turned out to be a replica AK-47 Airsoft rifle, which shoots BB sized plastic pellets. However, the gun appeared to be genuine, and when one of the deputies, later identified as Erick Gelhaus, ordered him to drop the weapon, the young man did not comply, and was reported to have even raised the gun. Gelhaus fired and killed Lopez. The FBI conducted an independent investigation of the incident, and ruled the shooting justifiable. Since that time, many in the community, and from all around California and elsewhere have staged protests and rallies complaining of the actions of the deputies and the follow up. Others have rallied to support the deputy and department.
One of the regular protesters has been Jose Godoy, who has twice been arrested for brandishing what appeared to be a handgun during a rally and activities around Andy Lopez protests. He claimed that at least once the weapon was in reality a staple gun. One of those charges has since been dropped, and the other is under investigation. In addition to that, he has been charged with vandalism and obstruction during rallies, in addition to an unrelated 2012 child endangerment conviction.
With that background, it seemed strange to many to hear of Godoy’s latest incident. On January 16, deputies were called to Friedman Brothers Home Improvement on Santa Rosa Avenue on reports of a burglary. According to the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office, management at the store showed the deputy a video surveillance of a man taking a $60.00 blow torch while accompanied by four others. When contacted by a store employee, the man refused to stop, getting into his car with the others and leaving at high speed. The deputy recognized the thief as Jose Godoy, and they were able to identify his vehicle as well from the video.
Eight days later, on Friday January 24, the same deputy spotted Godoy as he drove north on Santa Rosa Avenue. With the stated intention of stopping Godoy to get a statement regarding the burglary he was suspected of, the deputy followed him and tried to make a traffic stop. By the time he caught up with him, they had arrived at the rear of an apartment complex at 1024 Bellevue, where Godoy lives.
The deputy reported that after they stopped, the five subjects exited the vehicle, but did not cooperate with his efforts to speak to Godoy. He said that Godoy constantly berated him, yelling profanities as he walked away. He also yelled to the people he was with, and in the apartment complex, to videotape the confrontation. The deputy tried to explain that he just wanted to speak to him about the burglary at Friedman Brothers. Godoy reportedly continued his verbal aggression and walked towards the deputy, while several others in the area also shouted at him aggressively. He called for backup, and they eventually handcuffed Godoy and arrested him on charges of probation violation and delaying an investigation. Despite the evidence, he did not admit to the theft of the blowtorch, and that investigation is ongoing.
Some comments on posted articles about this and past incidents suggest both that Godoy shouldn’t be tied to the organized demonstrations, and that he is not a valid representative of the cause of justice for Andy Lopez. Others suggest that he is being unfairly persecuted by law enforcement due to his vocal participation. It has been suggested that this latest incident was an attempt by him to goad law enforcement into further harassment. Or perhaps that he is just a common criminal who happened to gain some notoriety through the Lopez events.
Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Police have announced that their investigation into Andy Lopez’ shooting, in conjunction with the Petaluma Police Department, has been completed and forwarded it to the District Attorney’s office, per standard protocol for such incidents, with the goal of determining if there were any criminal violations in the actions by the Sheriff’s Deputy. The results of that investigation have not been released pending the review by the D.A.
Update 7/2/15: Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Frietas was notified yesterday that the investigations conducted by the FBI and US Department of Justice concluded, based on their independent investigation, that the shooting of Andy Lopez was not a civil rights violation, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s office. They stated that the findings support the conclusions reached by the Sonoma County District Attorney as well as the department’s internal investigation. This finding concludes all investigations and reviews into the incident by city, county, state and federal entities.
Press Democrat: Fake-weapons charge against Andy Lopez protester dropped
Press Democrat: Protester of Lopez killing arrested after suspected theft
Petaluma Patch: Gelhaus Protesters in Santa Rosa Smash Jail Door; One Arrested
Photos courtesy Facebook