An amateur film crew’s robbery scene took a dangerous real-life turn Thursday when police, unaware the takeover at a Glendora coffee shop was staged, swarmed the building with their weapons drawn.
It began just before 7:20 a.m., Glendora Police Capt. Tim Staab said, when a woman walking up to Classic Coffee saw a man inside who was wearing a bandanna covering his face and carrying what appeared to be a gun.
She ran back to her car and called 911, Staab said, prompting all eight of the Police Department’s on-duty officers to rush to the scene.
When police arrived, they found one man with what looked like an AR-15 rifle and another with a handgun, Staab said. Both were wearing bandannas, gloves and hooded sweatshirts.
The man with the rifle dropped his weapon immediately, Staab said. But the other hesitated.
“He was dumbfounded,” Staab said.
“Drop it, drop it, drop it!” an officer yelled, according to a police audio tape obtained by KTLA-TV.
Another officer then reached out and knocked the weapon to the ground.
“What are you guys doing?” one officer is heard on the tape asking. Then: “You’re shooting a short film?”
“Yeah,” another man says.
Staab said the group of film students had not obtained one of the city’s free permits for filming and had no trucks or equipment that would have indicated the scene was staged. The replica guns, called Airsofts, normally have orange tips indicating that they’re not real, but those were also gone, he said.
The weapons, Staab added, were pretty convincing.
“I had to turn to one of the officers and ask, ‘You sure these aren’t real?” he said.
There are no charges pending against the group, Staab said.
“At that particular moment, when you face a threshold incident and your officers come that close to killing somebody, the last thing on our minds was to determine if they violated any laws,” he said. “At that point, you’re just so relieved that nobody got hurt. We stood them up, brushed them off, warned them and sent them on their way.”
A man who answered the phone at the coffee shop Friday morning had no comment. Owner Fred Sparling told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on Thursday the crew told his manager they were shooting a Christian movie and didn’t mention the robbery scene until they arrived. The group also said it had permission to film throughout the city, he told the newspaper.
“I think he is darn lucky that the police didn’t shoot him,” Sparling said of the actor who didn’t drop his gun.
Staab said the incident should serve as a reminder to the public — especially amateur filmmakers and aspiring YouTube stars — that a simple film permit can clear up a lot of confusion.
“We’re just grateful. We’re just so fortunate that the officers used their training,” he said. “Not shooting this kid yesterday wasn’t by accident — we train our officers regularly on these types of scenarios. Fortunately, it just worked out.”
“It was as close as you come,” he continued. “That’s for sure.”