Video: Off-duty California police officer pulls gun on man he mistakenly believes is stealing mints

Posted at 11:02 AM, May 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-05 11:03:39-04

Buena Park, CA (KTLA) -- When a man who was ending a night out with his wife stopped at a gas station in Buena Park to buy some mints, he wound up facing down a police firearm when an off-duty officer incorrectly assumed he was stealing.

Jose Arreolla had gone into the convenience store in the 6300 block of Beach Boulevard the night of March 16 to use an ATM and buy mints, he said.

In surveillance video from the store, he can be seen handing the cashier a $20 bill. While he's waiting for his change, the off-duty officer walks in.

Arreolla slips the mints into his pocket, and the officer can be seen immediately drawing his gun.

"It was a bit of fear but more anger, I think," Arreolla said of his reaction.

In the footage, he can be seen reacting with shock.

The officer is heard telling Arreolla, "Put it back," and identifying himself as a police officer.

Arreolla tells the officer he had just paid for the item, but the officer reacts with disbelief and tells him, "Get your cash and leave."

Arreolla mimes helplessly to the cashier, who says nothing.

Eventually, the officer directly addresses the clerk, who confirms that the mints were paid for.

"My apologies," the officer says.

Police are not identifying the officer involved.

Arreolla said the man's actions represent a gross overreaction to the situation, and he believes he was profiled for being Latino.

"I just think that he could shoot me right now," he said. "He could shoot me and I could lose my life, and my wife's in the car. It was just a very emotional moment."

His wife, Jacquie Arreolla, said she still has nightmares about what could have happened to her husband of 32 years.

"If you pull a gun, you're pulling it because you're preparing yourself to use it," she said. "So he could have killed my husband that night. It's like, you pulled a gun over a stupid item and anything could have went wrong, and that's the part that I can't shake."

Defense attorney J. Tooson, who is not associated with the case, said pulling out a gun over a petty theft would be completely unwarranted even if the officer were on duty.

"Why not identify yourself as an officer without pulling a gun out and say, 'Hey, did you pay for that candy?' rather than immediately resorting to your gun, pulling that gun out, scaring this poor individual who had committed no crime at all?" he asked.

Sgt. Mike Lovchik, a public information officer from the Buena Park Police Department, said the agency was investigating the incident and it was possible a lawsuit would be filed.

"We are not releasing any information or making a statement at this time," he told KTLA.