He Paid for His Mentos. Then an Officer Pulled a Gun on Him.

News
Jose Arreola, center, had just paid for a $1.19 roll of Mentos in a Southern California gas station when an off-duty police officer, right, pulled out a gun and accused of him of stealing them.CreditOrange County Register, via YouTube

Jose Arreola walked into a Southern California gas station to buy Mentos on a Friday night in March and still can’t shake off what happened next. After he paid for the mints and placed them in his left jacket pocket, an off-duty police officer behind him pulled out his handgun, pointed it at his feet and accused him of stealing them.

“It made me angry,” Mr. Arreola, 49, said on Monday. “I felt this fear and thought of my wife. My wife might become a widow tonight.”

The night started when Mr. Arreola, who was on his way to a club with his wife, pulled into a Chevron station in Buena Park in Orange County, Calif. He got $60 out of an A.T.M., then remembered that his wife had asked for mints.

Standing in front of the cashier, Mr. Arreola scanned a row of candy bars, sweets and gum before reaching for a roll of Mentos. “How much are these?” Mr. Arreola asked the man behind the counter. The cashier told him they were $1.19.

The transaction on March 16, which was recorded by the gas station’s security camera, was entirely uneventful until the off-duty officer, who works for the Buena Park Police Department, entered the store. He missed the part when Mr. Arreola handed over $20 for the Mentos.

“Hey, put that back,” the officer said as he lifted his sweatshirt and pulled a handgun from his waistband. “Put it back. Police officer.” 

“I just paid for this,” Mr. Arreola responded.

Video shows off-duty officer pulling gun on man mistakenly suspected of stealing MentosCreditVideo by Orange County Register

The misunderstanding was resolved in about 35 seconds — the officer put away his gun and apologized — but it was long enough to taint Mr. Arreola’s perception of the police and to land the officer in an internal investigation.

“You can’t help but look at all these Facebook videos of cops doing bad things,” said Mr. Arreola, who went public with his story on Friday in an interview with The Orange County Register. “The way he cocked his gun, I thought he was going to shoot me if I did any wrong move.”

 

Mr. Arreola said that after the encounter, he filed a complaint with the Police Department against the officer, who has not been identified. The department offered last week to settle the dispute, Mr. Arreola said, but he declined the deal because the amount would have only covered his legal fees.

Across the United States, police departments have come under intense scrutiny in recent years over the use of force and treatment of minorities. The worst actions by police officers are sometimes captured on cellphone video and quickly shared on social media, fueling a distrust toward law enforcement.

John DeCarlo, a former police chief and an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said that he reminds police officers to treat everyone they encounter with respect, from mundane interactions to very intense ones.

Everyday encounters, like seeing an officer in a gas station, shape people’s overall perceptions of the police, he said. “We have an innate fear of police to begin with,” Mr. DeCarlo said. “It’s about treating people how you want to be treated.”

Mr. DeCarlo was startled as he watched the security footage of the off-duty Buena Park police officer. “Oh my goodness,” he said as he watched the officer retrieve his gun. “Holy mackerel.”

He said that the officer violated the most basic rules governing the use of force by the police. No matter the situation, officers should issue verbal commands first. Pulling out a gun should be a last resort.

“What the officer did was incredibly inappropriate,” he said.

Corey S. Sianez, the Buena Park police chief, said that he was also troubled by the officer’s actions. “I want you to know that after I watched the video I found it to be disturbing, as I’m sure it was to you,” he saidFriday on Facebook.

Chief Sianez said that the actions by the officer were under review. He did not respond to an email on Monday asking whether the officer was still on active duty or if he had been placed on leave during the investigation.

“I can definitely assure you that our investigation will be thorough,” he said. “If the officer is found to be in violation of any policies and procedures, he will be held accountable.”

Michael Scott, a former police officer who teaches criminal justice at Arizona State University, said the encounter was troubling on many levels.

The officer, who was wearing athletic clothes, was not easily identifiable as the police, and he pulled out his gun and accused Mr. Arreola of stealing before he knew whether a crime had been committed.

“I can sympathize with a young officer’s instincts to want to intervene off duty in what he perceives to be a crime,” Mr. Scott said. “But good judgment, combined with restrictive policies and training in those policies, are needed precisely to prevent the problems depicted in this incident.”

New York Times: Susan C. Beachy contributed research

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Teenager held down by police, hit with baton in Byron Bay yelled ‘I’m not resisting’, inquiry hears

Politics

Footage showing police holding down a teenage boy and hitting him with a baton has been played at an independent inquiry into the officers’ conduct.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) in Sydney is investigating whether the officers used excessive force and therefore engaged in serious misconduct while arresting the intoxicated 16-year-old in Byron Bay in January 2018.

The video, which runs for two minutes and 49 seconds, was filmed by a member of the public.

It shows four officers holding the teenager down, and one of the officers hitting him just under 20 times, with most of the blows coming from a baton.

The 16-year-old, who can only be referred to as ‘AO’, can be heard yelling, “Please help, help!” and then “I’m not resisting”, while one of the officers can be heard saying, “Stop resisting, stop it”.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the commission Terence Rowles said that police received a call from a member of the public at 2:00am on January 11 advising that a naked man was acting inappropriately in the vicinity of the Nomad’s Backpackers Hostel in Byron Bay.

“AO was disorientated and appeared to be acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol,” Mr Rowles said.

“Attempts to communicate with AO or to have him obey commands were unsuccessful, the police officers then used OC spray, a taser and finally physical force, including the use of batons, to restrain him.”

Mr Rowles said AO suffered extensive bruising and a fractured rib.

“Although it is certainly the case that AO was acting irrationally and was plainly intoxicated in some way, he had not attempted to attack anyone, either physically or verbally, he was plainly unarmed,” Mr Rowles told the commission.

“He was shouting, but to the extent that anything could be made out, he was not either swearing or threatening.

“One of the important questions that needs to be determined is whether, at any time, but more particularly before any physical interaction occurred between AO and the police, he attempted to attack any officer or acted as though he might do so.”

‘Reasonable suspicion of mental illness, intoxication’

All four police officers will give evidence and be cross-examined during the hearing, however their identities have been suppressed by the commission to protect their privacy.

“It is clear that when the four officers arrived they were faced with a difficult and unpleasant situation which certainly justified a reasonable suspicion of both mental illness and drug intoxication … and warranted immediate police intervention and removal of AO to a safe place,” Mr Rowles said.

“How they went about this is task is the subject of this investigation.”

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is an independent statutory body which is separate from the NSW Police.

Its role is to detect, investigate and expose serious misconduct and serious maladministration within the NSW Police Force and it has powers to protect persons who provide information to it.

Once this matter has been investigated, the commission will present a report to Parliament.

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