Cops, Minorities, and Mentos

Jose Arreola walked into a Southern California convenience store. He paid for a roll of Mentos and had a gun pulled on him by an off-duty police officer who accused him of stealing them.

AJ Freithoffer, Columnist

On Friday, March 16, Jose Arreola walked into a Southern California gas station and had a gun pulled on him out of nowhere by an off-duty police officer. According to the New York Times, Arreola had paid for his Mentos and, after he was done, he placed them in his left jacket pocket. The off-duty police officer saw him put them in his pocket, pulled a gun on him, and accused him of stealing them.  49-year-old Jose Arreola later discussed how it angered him. He also said “I felt this fear and thought of my wife. ‘My wife might become a widow tonight.’” The night of the incident, Arreola and his wife were on their way to a club, and he had pulled into a Chevron gas station in Buena Park in Orange County, California. He first went to an ATM and withdrew $60 out of it, and remembered that his wife asked for mints. As Arreola was standing in front of the counter, he grabbed the roll of Mentos and asked the cashier how much the roll of Mentos cost. The cashier said they were $1.19.

The whole incident was recorded on the gas station’s security camera. All was as usual until the off-duty officer who works for the Buena Park Police Department walked in. He arrived a couple seconds after Arreola handed the cashier $20 to pay for the Mentos, resulting in the officer thinking he was stealing them. The officer ordered Arreola to put back the mints. The off-duty police officer then lifted his sweatshirt, grabbed a handgun out of his pocket, and yelled at Arreola again to put the roll of Mentos back and stated that he was a police officer. At this point in the situation, Arreola stated he had already paid for them, which the officer didn’t know. This was all a misunderstanding that took about 35 seconds to be resolved, concluding in the officer putting away his gun and apologizing. “You can’t help but look at all these Facebook videos of cops doing bad things,” stated Arreola in an interview with the Orange County Register. “The way he cocked his gun, I thought he was going to shoot me if I [made] any wrong move.”

After the incident, Arreola filed a complaint with the police department on the officer that he had encountered; he has not been identified yet. The police department offered to settle the misunderstanding but Arreola declined it because the amount of money would only settle his legal fees, according to the New York Times. John DeCarlo is a former police chief and also an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven. He always told police officers to treat every person they encounter with respect, even if they show “intense actions” to you or someone else around you. DeCarlo stated that, when you encounter a police officer in a negative situation, even if you only just see them in a gas station, it shapes the victim’s, and the world’s, perspectives on police officers, usually depending on the way they act. Mr. DeCarlo was in shock when he saw the video of Jose Arreola and the off-duty Buena Park police officer. DeCarlo said that this officer had violated the basic rules of what a police officer should do in these situations. He said that it doesn’t matter the situation, a police officer should always use verbal commands first and that pulling out a gun should be the last resort. He also stated that what this officer had done to Arreola was rude and inappropriate. The Buena Park police chief, Corey S. Sianez, stated that he was also angry with the officers actions. The Buena Park police officer had not responded to an email on Monday that was asking if he was still going to be on active duty or if he had been on leave throughout the investigation, according to the New York Times.

Chief Sianez said, “I can definitely assure you that our investigation will be thorough; if the officer is found to be in violation of any policies and procedures, he will be held accountable.” The Buena Park police officer, who was wearing athletic clothing at the time, could not easily be identified by police and also jumped to conclusions that could have led to death.  

Even though police officers such as the Buena Park officer are occasionally under scrutiny, we must remember that the police officers as a whole are here to help, not harm. The actions of a single man do not determine the behavior of them all.