Yakima Shooting

On Saturday, January 4, 2014, a 23-year-old driver was shot and killed by Yakima (WA) Police Officer Casey Gillette.

The released information from various sources characterizes the encounter like this:

Officer Gillette was on patrol that morning and noticed a vehicle parked at a car wash before 3 am. The vehicle was at the location for at least an hour, so Officer Gillette approached the passenger side to investigate. Evidently, Officer Gillette opened the door, saw a man (Rocendo Arias) with his finger on the trigger of what was later determined to be an Airsoft gun.  The officer fired 4 times. Mr. Arias was struck once in the head, and died as a result of the incident.


Several articles on this incident raise various questions about the officer's actions--some legitimate and others not so much.

One writer, Mikael Thalen of the site StoryLeak, discreetly questions whether the deceased man's behavior was suspicious prior to the shooting.

Let's consider this.

A vehicle is parked at a car wash at 3 am.

From the historical weather data for Yakima, WA that morning, it was around 20 degrees Fahrenheit or stinking cold.

Evidently, the officer noticed that the vehicle had been parked at the business for more than an hour.

During that time, the driver was apparently assembling/disassembling an Airsoft/pellet gun.

Assuming that the officer did not see anyone actively cleaning the car, I would say that: (1) a vehicle parked at a car wash in frigid temperatures (2) for an hour (3) at 3 am qualifies as suspicious--certainly something an officer would be justified in investigating.

Not to mention that the man was holding a pellet gun.

Two additional notes:
  • The police spokesperson believes the Airsoft gun had a an orange tip. With that information, multiple readers assert that the gun should have been recognized as fake. My two cents--an officer cannot immediately assume that orange on the tip of a gun means that it is not real. I have seen attempts to paint and tape the barrels of real handguns a bright color in order to deceive police and others. It is essential to remember that shoot-don't shoot scenarios are often split-second decisions. 

  • The officer had a ride-along passenger that morning. Ride-alongs can be distracting--depending on the citizen and the officer. It will be interesting to see what information that individual can provide about the incident.  

With these tragic situations, I discount the voices who characterize "all police as corrupt thugs with guns" as well as those at the opposite extreme who assert that "police behavior should never ever ever be questioned."

I try to let the facts speak.

I hope the Yakima Police Department releases the final shooting investigation reports to the public (the agency did not post a formal statement for the media online after the incident--something that would have been useful).

Eventually releasing the results will help clarify some of the misconceptions that tend to run rampant on the Internet.

Just let the facts speak, whatever those are.

My prayers are with the family of Mr. Arias and with Officer Gillette.

Note: News accounts have the involved officer's last name spelled both as "Gilette" and "Gillette." I used the latter spelling since that is how it is listed in a 2012 Yakima Police Annual Report.


messymimi said...

Let's hope the facts come out properly, too. It's sad when things turn out to be hidden that only come to light later. It makes everything more difficult.

Diane Estrella said...

Officers have split seconds to make life and death decisions, I think he erred on the side of caution to himself and others. Suspicious indeed.

Lydia Kang said...

Oh geez. What a bad outcome. It'll be interesting to see more info come to light.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Well, it certainly sounds suspicious to me.

Pat Hatt said...

Does sound suspicious why he was there. Could have been waiting for someone and bored, playing with his gun or could have been ready to rob the place, who knows.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Seriously? Sounds like the guy wasn't running on all cylinders or wanted suicide by cop.

Bob G. said...

Well, it meets all the criteris for investigation...that's for sure, and you're spot on about the whole "shoot - don't shoot" scenario...it IS a determination baed on what the officer is facing, the training received, AND always requires a split-second decision.
I don't care HOW LONG you're in the department, a situation like this is NEVER "cut and dry"...each one is different, and potentially JUST as dangerous.
Much like a car-stop.

Excellent view on the case.

Roll safe out there.

lisa said...

Definitely a tragedy for all parties involved. I can't imagine the split-second decisions that need to routinely be made in these types of situations. I wonder if shouting through a bull horn at the man int he car would have alleviated some of the miscommunication. But we're all armchair police officers after the fact.

Bossy Betty said...

A sad situation for all. Let's hope all the facts come out and there is at least a little peace for one of the parties.

Carol Kilgore said...

Tragic. I agree that it could easily been a suicide by cop scenario.

Brian Miller said...

while tragic...you gotta wonder at the back story...and realize as well that in the spur of the moment he had to make a decision and saw a gun..what the heck was the guy doing there anyway...

ladyfi said...

Let's hope the truth is uncovered.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Geesh. How sad and tragic. Of course it's easy to wonder how things could have been handled differently after the fact.

Maxi said...

Police officers have to make a split-second decision in a situation like this.

Some who hesitate have lost their lives.

blessings ~ maxi

Cindy Beck, author said...

I taught my kids that no good thing comes from being out in the wee hours of the morning, doing suspicious activities.

Why does the public not understand that common sense philosophy?

It's sad for the man's family and sad for the officer. No officer wants to kill someone, but it could have been a real gun, and had the office hesitated, it could have been his funeral, instead.

Momma Fargo said...

Well said. I love those police shooting armchair quarterbacks that go off on something way to one side or the other before all the facts are released. Most often when a police shooting occurs, unless the guy was a Charles Manson look alike, the first thing people start going off about is how bad the police are. Great post!

Tara said...

So sad all around. Have you seen the one from FL yesterday? A father was texting his daughter before a movie (in the theater)and got into an argument about it with a 71 yo retired police officer. The argument got heated and the ex-officer shot & killed the guy. Just so tragic.

Stephanie Faris said...

The sad thing is, any time someone's shot, the public will ask the question, "Was it necessary?" In hindsight, it's easy to say the officer had nothing to worry about but when you've been in that position for a while, I imagine you learn that things can go bad VERY quickly.

Anonymous said...

What some people won't understand is that not everyone works a 9-5 job and sitting in your car at a 24 hour car wash vacuum stall in a public place for an hour is not a crime. 3am for a shift worker could be 5pm in your world... and to just open the door is a violation of the 4th amendment of our constitution and ohh we in America have the 2nd amendment that guarantees our right to carry real guns....our soldiers in other countries must wait until fired upon to engage...but here a cop can swing open your door and surprise you then send 4 bullets your way????? bullshit I say

Slamdunk said...

@ Anonymous: I appreciate the contrasting viewpoint. You are correct that sitting in a vehicle parked for an hour at a car wash at 3 am is not necessarily illegal (notwithstanding loitering or trespassing provisions), but it is suspicious—which is the point of my post.

If governments hire police and demand that they maintain order and prevent crime, we expect them to investigate suspicious activity like that which is described above.

Currently, I think there are too many details about the shooting that are unknown. As I stated previously, I prefer to wait for the facts rather than today offer an endless number of hypotheticals trying to defend the actions of either the officer or the deceased man. I hope the Yakima Police Department releases an extensive report.

@Tara: Yes, I watch the Tampa area news closely and saw that story before it went national. Sad indeed.

terri said...

Law enforcement officers, by nature of their jobs, have to accept the possibility of deciding whether or not to critically or fatally wound a suspect at some point in their careers. That is not a burden I would ever want to carry. No one is perfect and I would venture to guess that it's not due to perfection or expertise if an officer has never made the wrong decision. Luck probably has something to do with it.

I feel sorry for the victim's family as well as for the officer. Both will be carrying a lot of pain in their hearts as a result of this incident.

JJ.in.Phila said...

I am NOT someone to give police a free pass, but I have to agree with Slamdunk here.

Washing a car wash at 3 AM may not be suspicious. Being in a car wash for an hour at 3 AM in temperatures between 36 and 29 degrees (I looked it up) is suspicious.

Anonymous said...

WOW.... A state patrolman investigated this car earlier no found no problem. Then this thug comes along, didn't turn-on his emergency lights, creeps-up along the passenger side and opens the door, and proceeds to MURDER a sleeping individual. To top it off this coward hides behind a badge so he and his gangster thug friends can do as they wish with no consequences. This son-of-a-bitch needs to be tied to a bumper and publicly dragged through the streets.

Anonymous said...

I agree. What many ppl don't know, is shortly before this incident took place a Wa. State patrol officer noticed the vehicle sitting there. Upon further inspection she noticed the young man who appeared to be sleeping. Seeing no harm in this, she left him to sleep.
Next thing we know, the guy is shot by an officer who OPENED THE GUYS CAR DOOR!!!
Surely that's not procedure