Gunman in Panera begged cops to shoot him for hours. State says they were justified in doing so

Scott L. Mielentz held off police in the Princeton restaurant earlier this year Watch video

For hours, Scott L. Mielentz repeatedly begged police officers to shoot him.

And for hours they did not.

Scott Mielentz.jpgScott Mielentz 

He was holed up inside the Panera in Princeton this past March, and he had a handgun that he showed to police, waving it around while complaining about his woes.

Instead of firing, officers talked to him, negotiated, appealed to anything they could learn about him, and resisted his suicidal wishes.

“Just kill me. Do it for me, guys,” Mielentz said once.

“Put the gun down!” state troopers responded.

“Just do this, guys. I’m going to shoot you, guys. Don’t make me do this,” Mielentz said another time. And, “It’s either going to be you or me.”

“Soldier, put that gun down!” the troopers and negotiators tried.

Mielentz, 56, of Lawrence, had said he was a Vietnam veteran, a claim later proved false.

During his final, fatal encounter with officers on March 20, the SWAT team troopers could not hold their fire, the state Attorney General’s Office said Friday in justifying their actions.

At about 2:56 p.m., Mielentz walked out of the dining area where he’d been and held his gun at a downward angle.

He smoked a cigarette, crushed it out on the floor, spread his stance and – and as he’d done before – counted down from five.

The he started raising the gun, hesitantly, as troopers pleaded with him not to do it. 

When it was aimed at them, two troopers fired five times, Trooper William Kerstetter fired four and Trooper Joseph Trogani one.

Mielentz was dead at the scene.

His gun? A Crosman PFM BB pistol. 

All of the law enforcement witnesses, the state said, reported to investigators that they believed throughout the standoff that it was an actual firearm.

The investigation into the shooting, conducted by the state Division of Criminal Justice, found “undisputed facts” that the use of force was justified under the law, and therefore did not need to be presented to a grand jury.

“I have a gun. Everyone out.”

The incident began earlier that morning, when the state says Mielentz started telling friends he wanted to die, the state says.

At about 9 a.m., he texted a friend saying he was ready to “depart this life.”  Mielentz called that woman during the standoff, investigators later learned, and told her he wanted the police to shoot and kill him. 

And about 10 a.m., Princeton police received a 911 call from a friend of Mielentz’s, who said he got a suicidal text from him. That call led Princeton police to start looking for him.

At about 10:30 a.m., Mielentz met another fried at the Panera on Nassau Street, across from Princeton University. Mielentz began talking about suicide and told the friend he had a gun. Then he drew it, a black pistol and shouted, “I have a gun. Everyone out.”

Princeton police got a 911 call at 10:28 a.m. from a man who said, “There’s a guy with a gun at Panera.”  Employees and customers escaped without injury.

Man shot in Panera standoff had anxiety, ‘fear he could not explain’

A Princeton officer was the first to arrive at Panera and went inside and saw Mielentz, who pointed his gun at her. She retreated without firing, went outside and evacuated the area.

Other Princeton police officers went into the rear of Panera and tried to get a conversation going with Mielentz, who responded with: “Shoot me, just shoot me.”

He told the officers he was in pain, the government had cut off his Oxycontin and that he was a Vietnam veteran who’d killed 1,000 people during the war. 

The state police’s SWAT team, called TEAMS, later took over the incident.

For the next four hours, troopers and negotiators – one a state police officer and one a Princeton officer – tried a variety of ways to end it peacefully, the state said. A TEAMS member in the rear of the restaurant evaluated whether he could use a stun gun on Mielentz, but determined he was too far away.

Once, they asked Mielentz if they could help him in any way, and he responded “Yes, shoot me.” 

During the standoff, Mielentz repeatedly said he wanted to die and threatened to shoot an officer if the officers did not shoot him.

He repeated a routine at times, the state said. “He would stand up, begin to raise the gun toward the officers, sit down, put the gun down, pick it up again, smoke a cigarette, and then repeat the cycle.  He repeatedly put the barrel of the gun to his chin or head.  Officers said he seemed to be building up his courage,” a press statement said.

At one point, Mielentz held up a check and told negotiators it was for $5,000 and he wanted it to go to his son when he died.

Another time, he again said he was a soldier and a marksman, falsely asserting again that he had killed hundreds in the military, and said he could be an advocate for those suffering from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Toxicology tests on his body found one drug in his blood, the anti-anxiety medication diazepam, commonly known by the brand name Valium.

Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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