Sheriff's deputies Tuesday shot and killed a California teenager who was reportedly carrying a "replica" toy rifle. Was the shooting justified?
Andy Lopez, 13, was killed by Sonoma County sheriff's deputies during an "encounter" just outside Santa Rosa, California, about 3 p.m., San Francisco's KPIX-TV reports. The deputies ordered Lopez to drop his weapon and then opened fire.
Police are only authorized to use deadly force in certain instances. Was this one of those cases?
Boy Killed Carrying Fake Rifle
Lopez was found carrying a toy gun which investigators described as resembling an assault rifle, similar to an AK-47. According to San Francisco's KGO-TV, Lopez was also found with a plastic toy handgun in his waistband.
This is certainly not the first time that law enforcement has fired on someone for carrying a fake gun. Just last month, the city of San Jose paid out close to $5 million after police shot and injured a man for carrying a fake "gold-colored revolver tucked in his waistband," the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Lopez, however, was not so fortunate. The Press Democrat reports that his father identified Lopez's body Tuesday night; at this point, it is unclear whether Lopez's relatives will pursue a wrongful death suit against the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department.
Deputies' Use of Deadly Force
Law enforcement officers are legally authorized to use lethal force only when the suspect:
- Is suspected of a severe offense (typically a dangerous felony),
- Poses an immediate threat to officers, or
- Is actively resisting arrest.
As long as the threat to officers is objectively real and immediate, police and sheriff's deputies may even be within their rights to shoot a suspect for brandishing scissors, as another case demonstrated.
In this case, the sheriff's office claims Lopez was carrying a firearm despite deputies' orders to "drop the rifle," possibly giving deputies a reason to believe that Lopez was a threat to their safety.
KPIX reports that both deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on leave pending police investigation of the incident, after which they could potentially face administrative discipline or even criminal charges.