Off-duty police officer pulls gun on man over $1.19 pack of Mentos

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Darren Foreman

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Darren Foreman

Surveillance footage from a California convenience store shows an off-duty Buena Park police officer pull a gun on a man he suspected of stealing a roll of Mentos.

Jose Arreola, 49, of Bellflower, told The Orange County Register that he and his wife, Jacqueline, were headed to a club the night of March 16 when they stopped at a Buena Park Chevron to get cash out of the store's ATM machine. Jacqueline Arreola also wanted a pack of Mentos.

Video from inside the store, which was obtained by the Register, shows Arreola put the candy on the counter and hand the clerk a $20 bill from the cash he had retrieved out of the ATM. As the clerk is getting his change, Arreola pockets the mints.

The man in line behind him, wearing shorts and a black hooded sweatshirt, pulls a gun from his hoodie pocket and, identifying himself as a police officer, tells Arreola to put the candy on the counter.

“I just paid for this,” a stunned-looking Arreola says.

“Put it back,” the unidentified officer says, keeping his handgun pointed down, but in Arreola’s direction.

Arreola continues trying to explain.

“You just tried stealing that,” the officer says. “Get your cash and leave.”

Arreola starts to walk away, but again says that he just paid for the candy.

“Did he pay for this?” the officer asks the clerk.

“Yes,” the clerk responds.

“He paid for it? Are you sure?” the officer asks.

“Yes,” the clerk says.

The officer looks at Arreola and gestures for him to return to the counter.

“My apologies,” the officer says.

Arreola told the Register that the apology was not sufficient.

“Are you seriously pulling a gun out over a pack of Mentos?” he said.

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Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez said in a Facebook post on Friday that his department was made aware of the incident after it took place and that an internal investigation was initiated. He said Arreola also filed a formal complaint against the unidentified officer and hired an attorney.

"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," Sianez wrote. "However, because there is an ongoing personnel investigation and potential litigation pending against the city, I am unable to discuss the details of our investigation. I can definitely assure you that our investigation will be thorough and if the officer is found to be in violation of any policies and procedures, he will be held accountable. Thank you for your patience and understanding."

It was unclear whether the officer remained on active duty or was placed on administrative leave during the probe into his actions.

The officer's decision to pull out his handgun comes at a time when police shootings are a big issue across the United States. A database from The Washington Post shows that at least 378 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2018.

A total of 987 people were fatally shot by law enforcement officers in 2017, the Post found.

Joe Domanick, associate director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, told the Register that it is "astounding" that the officer who pulled his gun on Arreola thought that was the right move to make.

"You pull a gun as a last resort," Domanick said. "It shows the officer has been poorly trained or not trained at all, or he's totally unsuited to be a police officer."

Followers of the Buena Park Police Department's Facebook page called for the officer to be fired.

“This man should not be in law enforcement,” one commenter wrote. “He is a danger to the citizens he is supposed to be serving and protecting.”

“So basically, you’re going to investigate yourself and find no wrongdoing,” another man wrote. “Is it standard procedure to threaten a man’s life over $1.19 in mints? If he had a dog with him, would the cop have been required to shoot the animal? You guys suck.”

“Just wondering, do you train your officers to carry their weapons in their pockets?” another commenter asked. “Poor tactics from the start. The guy was literally standing at the cashier collecting his change for the purchase. What made this officer believe the item he placed in his pocket, was not what he just paid for?”

“Where was the ‘good guy with a gun’ when Mr. Arreola needed one? Because here it's clearly not the Buena Park police officer,” a woman wrote. “Mr. Arreola's life was valued at less than $1.50 by your off-duty officer.”

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