Newly released information has shed light on the Sunday death of a Yakima, Wash. man who was shot and killed in his vehicle after police mistook his disassembled airsoft gun for a real firearm.
According to statements from Department spokesman Capt. Rod Light, Yakima Police Officer Casey Gilette observed a “suspicious” vehicle parked outside a local 24-hour car wash while on a 3 a.m. routine patrol.
After reportedly surveying the situation for one hour, Gilette decided to approach the vehicle, occupied by 23-year-old Rocendo Arias.
“Approached on foot on the driver’s side, moved around the vehicle to the passenger side of the vehicle,” Light explained to the KNDU News.
Instead of knocking on Rocendo’s window to further investigate the situation, Light admits the officer swung the passenger side door open without informing the driver. After noticing the disassembled gun, Gilette fired four shots, striking Rocendo once in the head.
“It appeared that he had some accessories to the handgun that he was trying to install on it or put pieces of this gun together,” Capt. Light said.
The airsoft gun, which shoots plastic pellets, reportedly had a bright orange plastic tip as well, used to clearly identify the item as a toy.
“I believe this particular handgun had an orange tip. But based on our investigation I don’t want to go into particulars and details of the position of the gun and where the officer was,” Light said.
Despite the toy being partially disassembled, Light appeared to defend the officer’s actions, claiming that Rocendo had his hand on the section containing the trigger.
“The deceased had the weapon not only in his hand, but he also had his finger on the trigger,” Light said.
According to Light, Gilette declined to be interviewed for 48 hours after the shooting, a right given to officers by the local police union contract.
Shortly after an investigation was opened by Gilette’s own department, Police Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr. spoke out in support of the officer’s actions as well.
“Based on the preliminary investigation, I absolutely stand behind the officer and his actions in the shooting that occurred,” Rizzi said.
A check of court records by the Yakima Herald revealed Arias to have no felony convictions. Gilette was placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.
Despite children peacefully playing with toy firearms for generations, a recent string of officer-involved shootings involving toy guns has sparked debate.
Following last year’s fatal shooting of a 13-year-old California boy carrying a replica rifle, gun control groups have attempted to pass tightening regulations on similar toys, in what some see as an attempt to shift blame.