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.