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Deputy Who Killed 13-Year-Old Carrying Toy Gun Is Firearms Expert

The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the Oct. 29 tragedy in Santa Rosa, in which an innocent 13-year-old boy was shot to death because a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy mistook him an armed criminal. The boy, who was carrying with a toy gun that resembled an assault rifle, was shot seven times in the back merely 10 seconds after the deputy and his trainee spotted him.

From press reports, it appears the wrongful death of this eighth-grade boy may have been because he was a Latino wearing a hoodie in a blue-collar neighborhood.

The toy gun, which has been variously reported as an air or pellet gun, did strongly resemble an AK-47, but that should not have fooled the deputy who killed him. It is now known that the 24-year veteran deputy is a firearms expert. In fact, for 19 of those 24 years on the force he has served as a firearms instructor and shooting range master. He also served 10 years in the military, including a deployment in Iraq. He has no prior record of shooting a civilian while on the job as a law enforcement officer.

Nevertheless, when the deputy and his trainee spotted the boy, they were spooked enough to crouch behind the doors of their patrol car. He was standing 20 to 30 feet from the officers and facing away. When the deputy ordered him to drop the gun, it was only natural for an innocent young person to turn toward the source of the command.

That move cost him his life. The boy’s surprised movement was taken for aggression, and the deputy immediately fired eight shots. Seven bullets struck him, two causing fatal injuries, according to a preliminary autopsy. Police records show that no more than 10 seconds had passed between the time the officers saw him and the time of his death.

The trainee, who was new to the agency but had 11 years of law enforcement experience, is considered a witness. Both have been placed on administrative leave, and police have said they welcome the FBI investigation. The shooting sparked nearly daily protests in the community.

There can be no greater heartbreak than the wrongful death of an innocent child. Anyone whose negligence or wrongdoing causes such a terrible wrong must be held fully responsible in order to give the family justice and emotional closure.

Source: New York Daily News, “Santa Rosa, Calif. Deputy Erick Gelhous, who shot boy carrying toy assault rifle, was a firearms instructor, gun range master, Iraq veteran,” Reuters, Oct. 29, 2013

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