Jose Arreola said he and his wife, Jacqueline, were driving to a club about 10 p.m. on a Friday when they pulled into a Chevron station on Beach Boulevard in Buena Park to use the ATM. Jacqueline Arreola told her husband to buy her some Mentos.
Arreola, who wears his hair short but has a long goatee, can be seen in a store security video placing the candy on the counter and handing the clerk a $20 bill from the $60 he got from the ATM.
While waiting for his change, Arreola pockets the candy. Immediately, a man in black shorts standing behind him in line pulls a gun from the pocket of his black hoody, announces he is a police officer and tells Arreola to put the Mentos back on the counter.
Arreola throws his hands up and protests that he paid for the mints. The officer can be heard telling Arreola to take his change and leave, minus the Mentos. Finally, the officer asks the cashier if Arreola paid for the mints.
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.
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.”