A six-hour standoff between police and a 40-year-old man who allegedly splashed gasoline on the floor of a Novato, California, convenience store “while threatening to burn it down” and later fled to a nearby Safeway ended when police defused the situation with a robot carrying a vape pen, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday, citing reports by the Bay City News, KGO, KPIX, and Marin Independent Journal.
According to the Bee, the suspect (identified by police as Juan Roman) appears to have been angry with some kind of problem at the pumps early on Saturday morning before he attempted and failed to ignite a gasoline-soaked floor mat at the convenience store. Police also said he was angry over family issues, the Bay City News wrote.
“I said sir you have to pre-pay for gas,” Circle K assistant manager Sanjeeb Kumar told KGO. “He got so angry he took a gas can from his pick up and poured it all over the store.”
Following the failed attempt to set the Circle K ablaze, the suspect fled to the Safeway location in a pickup truck. The Journal reported that after responding police notified by staff at the first location saw what they believed to be a firearm in the man’s vehicle, the situation resulted in “a mass response including Novato and San Rafael police, with crisis negotiators and a SWAT team, and the Novato Fire Department.”
“Got my coffee, waiting to fill up the pump and here this guy pulls in alongside me,” Safeway customer Mike Mahoney told KPIX. “I didn’t know what was going on at first. I thought maybe the guy was speeding or something, but when they jumped out and drew rifles, I knew something more was going on.”
Mahoney was close enough to the incident to hear officers yelling “Juan, put your hands up. Get out of your pickup. We don’t want to hurt you,” he added.
The Journal wrote the police robot in question delivered a cell phone to the window of the truck, which officers were eventually able to use to negotiate with the suspect. An initial request for a cigarette was denied due to the possibility he was covered in gasoline, though law enforcement later talked him into accepting a vape pen instead. This defused the situation, the Journal wrote:
Police sent a robot with a phone up to the window of the truck, and the man finally picked it up about 11:45 a.m. so negotiators could start talking to him. The man eventually asked for a cigarette, but was denied because of the fire threat. Negotiators talked him into accepting a vapor pen if he would surrender. After the item was delivered by the robot, the man stepped out of the vehicle and was arrested without further incident.
The California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Divisions Air Operations posted a video of the surrender to Facebook in which the robot, but not the vape pen, can clearly be seen:
According to KPIX, Roman was arrested without injury and “charged him with attempted arson and vandalism.” No firearms were found. Novato Police Department Lt. Sasha D’Amico told the station that officers were familiar with Roman, who she said had previous crises that resulted in police intervention (but none requiring the deployment of the department’s Crisis Response Team).
“Negotiators used de-escalation techniques to establish trust, and were able to talk to him and find out what was going on,” D’Amico told KGO. In a separate statement to KPIX, D’Amico said, “If we can do something that won’t make the situation more difficult, either deliver food, or water, or cigarettes, if that helps end the situation peacefully, we make that happen.”
Correction: A prior version of this article included an incorrect title of the agency which posted footage of the robot (very obviously the California Highway Patrol, not the “Colorado Highway Patrol”). We regret the error.