The Modesto police officer who fatally shot a man robbing a gas station was refueling his patrol car when he saw the armed and masked man walk into the convenience store Saturday morning.
The man apparently did not notice the uniformed officer and his marked car, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves. “He had one thing on his mind,” she said Monday morning.
The officer did not confront the robber inside the store at the Boyett Cruisers station at Claus Road and Briggsmore Avenue, but waited for him to exit, Graves said.
Video taken by a witness who was pumping gas at the station shows the officer repeatedly yell to the man, “Put your hands on top of your head.” The man’s response is is not visually or audibly clear from the video. Within two minutes, police and sheriff’s backup arrived, with a few more law enforcement vehicles arriving within an additional minute.
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The video does not show the shooting. Graves said the man robbing the store was pronounced dead at the scene. Initial information from police said it was unclear whether the robber fired his weapon.
“No employees were hurt. No customers were hurt. Thank God for that,” Dale Boyett, president of Modesto-based Boyett Petroleum, said Monday.
The robbery occurred about 5:40 a.m. Saturday, which tends to be a busy time at the station, Boyett said. “People are going to work, going to the lake, getting out of town,” he said. There were at least three cars fueling up outside, at least three people shopping in the store and two employees, Boyett said, adding that it’s unusual for someone to commit a robbery at a time there’s such activity.
“When they’re robbing a store, people tend to stay away from other individuals,” he said.
On top of that, the police officer was refueling at one of the pumps closest to the store. “You practically had to trip over it to get there,” Boyett said.
On Facebook, a customer in the Cruisers store and the customer who video-recorded the police officer talking to the robber also expressed surprise the man committed the robbery with an officer there. “I happened to be inside when it first happened. It’s a scary feeling being in that situation,” Phillip Vernacchio posted. “ ... Who in the hell will go into place to rob and not notice an officer outside pumping gas?”
The robber had a mask on when he entered the store, Boyett said, and employees said his behavior was erratic. For example, the register tray was placed on the counter for the robber to take the money, but he continued to talk with the cashier about getting him the money, Boyett said.
Police have not identified the dead man or the officer, who was placed on paid administrative leave, following standard procedure after a shooting.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office is assisting police detectives with the investigation. Anyone with information is eligible to earn a cash reward by calling the Crime Stoppers tip line, 209-521-4636, or by texting a message to 274637.