Did ‘mask mandate’ spark WA gas station conflict where gun was drawn?

Snip of charging document filed in King County Superior Court.


UPDATED, 2/3 @ 6:22 p.m. PST — A lively—and very divided—debate has erupted on social media in the aftermath of a Jan. 27 incident at a Bellevue, Wash., gas station during which a woman entered without a mask, was first told to leave by the clerk and then physically pushed outside after which she drew a pistol, resulting in a felony harassment charge by the King County Prosecutor’s office.

Seattle television stations showed surveillance video that caught the incident at an Arco gas station and AM/PM convenience store. According to Bellevue police, a woman identified as Angela Nommensen, 33, had filled up the gas tank in her company car. She went inside the store, without wearing a mask, for a receipt for reimbursement, and the clerk instead told her to leave. At one point the clerk clearly points at the front door, where a notice had been posted advising of the mask necessity.

The police said Nommensen, who lives in a neighboring county to the south, is licensed to carry a handgun. According to KOMO News, the clerk told police he thought the woman was going to shoot him.

Nommensen called 911 to report the incident, but ended up being arrested. According to the police report, the clerk said he “only used a small amount of force” to get Nommensen outside. But the security video, which can be viewed at KIRO and KOMO, might be interpreted differently by viewers, and that becomes evident by reading comments on Facebook left at the KOMO site. More than 290 comments have been posted, and the division is stark.

One man wrote, “She pulled the gun out after she was assaulted. Why is she getting a felony assault charge when he was one that walked around the counter and physically attacked her? If anyone should be charged it’s that mask hole convenient store clerk.”

But here’s how someone else saw it: “To the people in the comments that are saying “Good for her,” even if you disagree with the use of masks, are there not more responsible ways to handle the situation without pulling out a gun on an unarmed civilian trying to make a living (e.g., pay their bills and feed themselves and/or family)?

A woman observed, “The employee should have just given the receipt and be done with it. It’s not up to the employee to enforce whether a customer is going to wear a mask or not and frankly it’s not worth your life.”

A second woman wrote, “He put his hands on her wtf? I don’t agree with pulling a gun because you pull a gun your intent should be to use it. But he got piggyback with her that’s not in the job description. He could of easily handed receipt and told her she wasn’t aloud (sic) back in store and trespassed her. He was in the wrong. Especially being a man. I thought at first it was female.”

But a third woman took a different view: “She walked into a store, without a mask, when there is a sign on the door saying you must wear a mask. She apparently was asked to put on a mask or leave. When she refused to do either, the clerk used appropriate force to remove her…”

Another man commented, “this is what happens when bad policy is forcing the average worker to act like the gestapo. Tensions get high and people get angry. Everyone is at some fault here, but the major fault is the mask policy.”

There is considerable disagreement whether the clerk had any right to engage in a physical confrontation, although Bellevue police reportedly said he “did nothing wrong.” To get the full flavor for this debate, one really needs to read all of the entries responding to the story at KOMO’s Facebook page. Here’s the link, again. Readers might also thank KOMO for not shutting off this discussion, as it demonstrates the disparity of opinion about this case.

According to a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office, Nommensen is scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 14—Valentine’s Day—in the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.


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