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The parents of Andy Lopez, the 13-year-old boy shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy while carrying a toy rifle, have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the deputy and a California sheriff's department.
Rodrigo Lopez and Sujey Lopez Cruz filed suit in federal court Monday, claiming their son was killed "in violation of constitutional limits on police authority," The Press Democrat reports.
Civil rights suits over law-enforcement violence can be legally complicated, so what will the Lopez family need to prove?
Suit Alleges Deputy Acted Recklessly
Andy Lopez was carrying a BB gun shaped like an assault rifle October 22, when Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus opened fire. Gelhaus shot Lopez seven times, according to the Press Democrat.
The sheriff's office has opened an investigation which could lead to criminal charges against the deputy.
Last week, the Lopez family filed a tort claim against Sonoma County, alleging negligence and excessive force in their son's shooting, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In genreal, a tort claim must first be filed against a government entity before a lawsuit can commence.
4th Amendment Violation and Immunity
The federal civil rights suit, filed in San Francisco, claims that Andy Lopez's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the Gelhaus unreasonably shot and killed him. Being shot by an officer is legally considered a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, and Lopez's parents claim that this seizure was unreasonable under the circumstances, making it illegal.
Like other families of victims killed by officers, the 13-year-old's family filed suit under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, claiming both the deputy and Sonoma County violated their boy's civil rights.
In order to prevail in their claim against deputy Gelhaus, the teen's parents will need to prove that the officer's recklessness in the encounter with Andy Lopez is sufficient to overcome the officer's qualified immunity from lawsuits.
This may have been a simpler case if Lopez's parents had waited until a criminal conviction was reached, as the determination of guilt could be used to prove fault in violating Lopez's rights.
This case continues to spark controversy in Sonoma County, where large protests have taken place. Gelhaus has been placed on leave since the shooting.