Law enforcement’s killing ‘playbook’ revealed ‘3 Seconds in October’ documentary recounts 13-year-old’s shooting

by Dave Waddell
commentary posted Sept. 12

I’d like to plug an important, disturbing and highly instructive film that gets at some little-known truths about police killings and is now available for viewing online: “3 Seconds in October: The Shooting of Andy Lopez.”

From the “3 Seconds in October” documentary available on PBS KVIE.

“3 Seconds in October” was produced and directed by Ron Rogers and is enhanced by Peter Coyote’s incomparable narrative voice. The 28-minute documentary recently received a regional Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Rogers’ film recounts the outrageous 2013 killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez and its aftermath. Andy was walking down a Santa Rosa-area street carrying a toy replica of an assault rifle when shot by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus . After Gelhaus’ first bullet hit Andy in the heart, the deputy continued to shoot the boy “over and over and over again” as Andy fell and while he was on the ground.

“This boy was not a criminal; he was a boy with a toy,” a friend of the Lopez family says in the film.

Deputy Gelhaus trained other officers for the Sonoma sheriff’s office. Online, Gelhaus posted such sentiments as, “Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home.” His personal vehicle carried a mocking version of the “Coexist” bumper sticker with substituted symbols that included a gun crosshairs and skull and crossbones. Gelhaus pointed his gun at a shocked motorist just two months before he riddled Andy’s body with bullets.

Besides shining a light on Andy’s senseless killing, Rogers’ film performs a valuable service by describing an apparent “playbook” used by district attorneys, police chiefs and police unions nationwide to ensure that cops who kill rarely face any criminal or even career accountability. In studying the law enforcement killings in Butte County, I’ve witnessed District Attorney Mike Ramsey and the City of Chico run these same plays over and over and over again. In fact, Ramsey, who has been orchestrating exonerations for killer cops for 3 1/2 decades, has multiple plays in his extensive repertoire that did not even make the film’s list.

Law enforcement’s playbook tactics, as articulated in “3 Seconds in October,” include:

–Deny police wrongdoing (Ramsey, for example, shows up and provides that immediate denial at most every officer-involved shooting in Butte County, including at the killing of Myra Micalizio).

–Demonize the victim (Stephen Vest, anyone?).

–Conduct biased investigations to support the police. (Remember Eddie Gabriel “Gabe” Sanchez?)

–Defend and delay victim lawsuits (think Tyler Rushing).

–Keep police misconduct secret (Mark Bass, anyone?).

–Settle lawsuits to avoid a public trial (Remember Breanne Sharpe?).

–After lawsuits are settled, keep facts secret (I know all about such secrecy, having successfully sued the City of Chico to obtain public records its Police Department, on Matt Madden’s regressive watch as chief, went to disturbing lengths to keep from me).

–Deny systematic racism (think Desmond Phillips).

A typical Ramsey tactic -– one that didn’t make the film’s playbook -– I would label “Becoming adversarial with the aggrieved family members of the person police killed.”

Sadly, Andy Lopez’s family was also subjected to such cold-hearted cruelty. So as not to give away some especially infuriating moments in the film, I’ll merely say the Lopezes were treated unconscionably. So-called “investigators” from different agencies closed ranks to protect deputy Gelhaus, officially treating Andy’s killer as somehow the “victim.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway from “3 Seconds in October” is that if there is zero accountability when police kill without just cause -– as in the “playbook” culture of Mike Ramsey’s Butte County — it seeds more such senseless murder.

Dave Waddell is a contributing writer to ChicoSol who is writing a book about Butte County police killings.

7 thoughts on “Law enforcement’s killing ‘playbook’ revealed ‘3 Seconds in October’ documentary recounts 13-year-old’s shooting

  1. Ramsey should RESIGN. If he had an ounce of decency in his character, Ramsey would RESIGN.

    No one is above the law…except for Ramsey, it appears.

    Thank you, Dave Waddell, for comparing the appalling practices of prosecutors in Sonoma County to that of Ramsey, who also manipulated investigations to arrive at their desired result…the officers committed no crime and the victim is 100% responsible for the acts of the killer officers. Ramsey should RESIGN.

  2. In Sonoma County, two years after this senseless killing occurred, the Board of Supervisors established the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, an independent non-police agency. It reviews complaints and makes policy recommendations to the Sheriffs Office. It has the authority to obtain evidence, contact witnesses, subpoena records, publish body cam footage on its website, and recommend disciplinary action…..all on a budget that’s set at 1% of the Sonoma County Sheriffs Office budget.

    We in Butte County and the City of Chico, should also consider voting into office and supporting Supervisors and Council members who support local independent community oversight of our local law enforcement personnel.

  3. You forgot STEVEN VAN ZANT. I saw what they did. I wasn’t high, or wacko, I have an education and a fairly decent grasp on my mental faculties, I am also homeless. I saw what they did. Saw them show up on scene 20 minutes after two people were shot literally ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE CHICO POLICE DEPARTMENT. They arived in what seemed like 20 single manned police individual cars. Traipsing all over the scene picking up the casings and whatever slugs they could find and picking them up and shoving them briskly in their pockets. No gloves, no crime scene tape, no sense of urgency. To the few of us that stayed near our friend, they just wanted out names to run for warrants. A couple of rookie officers broke off and half heartedly glance in the bushes for a weapon. Actually moved a branch or two, at least until a rat jumped out and made one of them squeal like a little girl. Meanwhile, no less than five, but likely more officers traipsed all over any evidence that could’ve been where the kids were when they opened fire. Two officers rolled my friend on his side, he had been shot in the diaphragm, one officer had two hands on him as they rolled him, whilst the other officer only had one hand one him, mind you he was still breathing at this point. However, when they managed to get him from his back to his side, the officer with only one hand on him reached behind Steve and picked up something small as he exclaimed “There’s the slug!” At which point both officers, simeltaneouly, let go oglf my friend and help slumped heavily back onto his back. He quit breathing at that moment. My other friend that had been shot was laying there exposed from the waist to his knees because the officer pulled my friend’s pants down to his knees to remove the slug that had been shot into my friend’s groin. They left him exposed until I went and said something to them about it. All the while there was an ambulance driving around in circles honking it’s horn up of the street because they couldn’t figure out where to go apparently. I can tell more if you wanna know.

    1. Do you, or anyone else present, have any video of the unprofessional conduct of the CPD during this illusory investigation? Was anyone on “cop watch?”

    2. Thank you, Lisa Hillard This is the first account I’ve seen that truly describes what happened on that horrible day. The police did not shoot Steven Van Zandt, but they certainly showed neither of the men who were shot any respect, not did they treat it like the murder scene that it was. I am so sorry what you experienced, seeing your friends shot and treated so rudely.

  4. Thank you Dave Waddell again for exposing Ramsey’s corrupt [***] everything in this article fits him 2 A T same thing Ramsey shows up at every OIS and tells the story as if he was there and Chico City Council backs him up.

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