NOVATO (CBS SF) — A five-and-a-half standoff ended peacefully Saturday afternoon after a suspect who asked police for cigarettes accepted a vape pen instead, police said.
Investigators say the ordeal began around 7:00 a.m. at the 76 Gas Station located at the intersection of Ignacio Boulevard and Alameda del Prado.
The manager of the gas station and the connected convenience store, Sanjeev Kumar, said Roman argued with him about paying for gas. Kumar said Roman left the store, and came back a few minutes later with a gas can and started pouring gasoline on the floor.
Kumar said he called 911 as Roman walked up and down every aisle continuing to create a trail of gasoline, then said, “I am going to burn this building down.”
Kumar said Roman left with the gas can, but came back inside only a moment later holding a piece of paper. He said Roman grabbed a lighter from the counter, lit the piece of paper, then threw it down on a gasoline soaked floor mat and walked out.
Fortunately, Kumar was able to put out the fire before it spread to the rest of the store.
Novato Police said as they were approaching the gas station, Roman got into his Chevy Silverado pick-up truck and drove away on Ignacio Boulevard. Officers followed Roman he went over the Highway 101 overpass and stopped less than half-a-mile away at the Safeway gas station off Nave Drive.
“Got my coffee, waiting to fill up the pump and here this guy pulls in alongside me. 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,” said Mike Mahoney who was getting gas at a nearby pump.
Mahoney lives in Petaluma but was getting gas at the Novato Safeway before heading to the farmers market. He said he was close enough to the officers to hear them yelling at the man in the truck.
Mahoney told KPIX 5 the officers yelled, “Juan, put your hands up. Get out of your pick up. We don’t want to hurt you”.
Officers told investigators when they approached Roman’s truck, they saw what appeared to be the stock of a shotgun or rifle. They say when he didn’t comply with their demands to get out of the truck, they called for more help.
Lt. Sasha D’Amico with the Novato Police Department said they decided to deploy the Crisis Response Unit. It is a multi-agency team that includes a SWAT team for tactical safety and also negotiators.
Officers used a robot to deliver a phone to Roman so the crisis negotiators could talk with him.
“At one point you probably saw us deliver a vape pen to him because that was something that he asked for,” said Lt. D’Amico. She said it is a strategic move during a standoff situation.
“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,” said D’Amico.
Crisis negotiators talked with Roman for about two hours, and at 1:30 p.m. they convinced him to surrender peacefully, which ended the five-and-a-half hour long standoff. Waiting officers quickly took Roman into custody and charged him with attempted arson and vandalism.
Police were relieved the standoff ended with no injuries.
Lt. D’Amico says officers are familiar with Roman, as they’ve gotten calls to help him when he has been in other times of crisis. She said the last time officers made contact with him was in November 2018, but none of the other incidents required the Crisis Response Team.
Safeway and a nearby McDonald’s were evacuated and shut down during the standoff, but both reopened before 2:00 p.m.