Trouble in Sonoma County

Chuck Haggard recently commented on my “Don’t give people reasons to crucify you” post (okay, that wasn’t exactly the title).  Chuck mentioned a recent officer-involved-shooting in California.  The officer, Erick Gelhaus, has been cleared criminally.  But the incident has nonetheless erupted into protests and public outrage and a federal lawsuit.  Here’s the Wikipedia article, but basically Gelhaus shot a young boy who was holding an airsoft gun (with no orange tip).  The civil case had been stayed pending the criminal investigation, but earlier this month the stay was lifted, so litigation is apparently moving forward.

If you’re curious as to the purported grounds for civil liability, here is the most recent federal court complaint filed by the Lopez family (it’s been amended twice).  You will notice on page eight how unforgivingly the plaintiffs’ attorney pounces on the officer’s “on-line postings” and what conclusions should be drawn from them.  The complaint even takes some bruising jabs at Gunsite.  Here’s a snippet:

Defendant GELHAUAS was a regular contributor to on-line shooting and firearm tactics magazines, blogs and other electronic forums. There, he instructed and advised others on the use of questionable tactics, including recommendations as to how an officer must respond to justify shooting a kid with toy gun.

Not surprisingly, after wrongfully shooting and killing Andy Lopez, defendant GELHAUS recognized that his on-line postings and commentary would tend to show that he held extremist views, used bad tactics and had a tendency to use excessive force. Accordingly, he immediately attempted to erase, conceal and otherwise destroy evidence of his racist, separatist and extremist beliefs.  He wrongfully erased his on-line commentary, postings in chat-rooms, and other writings in an effort to conceal his beliefs.

The typo in spelling the officer’s name is theirs, not mine (not that I’m above typos by any means).

Obviously, I’m not crediting any of this as truth.  But remember, in a court room, sadly, it doesn’t really matter what’s true.  All that matters is what the jury believes.  And if your email address is [email protected], the jury might just believe you’re a stone-faced killer.

P.S.  Just a quick afterthought. I think it’s sad (damn-near tragic) that law-abiding gun folks have to walk on eggshells and be clairvoyant in order to proactively lower the chances that they might one day be prosecuted for exercising their rights or defending their lives. Frankly just writing this blog makes me a little nervous (which is why it took me so long to finally do it), and I don’t have all the added pressures and difficulties that LEOs face. Even within the bounds of what we’re constitutionally justified in doing (choosing an email username, writing a blog, being armed), we still have to strike balances between risk and benefit. That effort alone is exhausting and potentially perilous, even before any CCW event arises.