Man reportedly steals sweatshirt at Bellis Fair Mall, then points gun at employee

Bellingham police had to fire bean bags while making an arrest Saturday evening of a man suspected of robbing the H&M clothing store at Bellis Fair Mall at gunpoint.

Brian Andy Pantoja, 19, was booked into Whatcom County Jail Saturday, Sept. 28, on suspicion of obstructing a police officer, first-degree robbery, felony harassment and third-degree theft. Jail records show he is being held in lieu of $100,000.

Officers were called to the H&M store at approximately 5:56 p.m. for the report of an armed robbery, Lt. Claudia Murphy said.

Witnesses told police that a man, later identified as Pantoja, stole a sweatshirt, pointed a gun at an employee and fled while tucking the gun in his waistband, Murphy said. Witnesses told police Pantoja told the employee not to call police while pointing the gun.

Pantoja reportedly got in a silver Dodge Durango with two other men to drive away from the mall.

Police stopped the vehicle at the intersection of West Bellis Fair Parkway and Meridian Street, Murphy said, and the driver and the other passenger obeyed officers’ commands and got out of the truck with their hands visible.

Pantoja, who was in the back seat, refused, Murphy said, and he reached toward his waistband several times and argued with the officers’ commands.

Officers at that point fired drag-stabilized, flexible baton rounds — or bean bags — at Pantoja, Murphy said, and he complied.

A handgun was found in his waistband, Murphy said, and it was later determined to be a pellet gun.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.