Pan­era stand­off death deemed ‘jus­ti­fied’

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By Isaac Avilucea iav­ilucea@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @IsaacAvilucea on Twit­ter

PRINCE­TON >> The state po­lice troop­ers who fa­tally shot a sui­ci­dal man who was in­volved in an hours­long stand­off in­side a Pan­era Bread near the fa­mous Ivy League univer­sity had at­tempted to use a stun gun on him but couldn’t be­cause he was “too far away” from them in­side the eatery, au­thor­i­ties said.

The re­port, is­sued nearly eight months after the fa­tal en­counter, filled in gaps of the fi­nal hours be­fore Scott Mie­lentz, who was armed with a BB pis­tol when he bar­ri­caded him­self in­side the restau­rant on March 20, was fa­tally shot by two State Po­lice SWAT mem­bers after nearly five hours of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

At one point, the 56-yearold Mie­lentz, of Lawrence, held up a $5,000 check and told ne­go­tia­tors it was sup­posed to go to his son when he died, ac­cord­ing to the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice, which on Fri­day re­leased the find­ings of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­li­cein­volved shoot­ing.

The stand­off ended when State Po­lice TEAMS unit mem­bers, Wil­liam Ker­stet­ter and Joseph Tro­gani, in tac­ti­cal gear and armed with M4 ri­fles, shot and killed Mie­lentz when he raised the BB pis­tol to­ward them fol­low­ing nearly five tense hours of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The re­port, is­sued in com­pli­ance with a statewide po­lice use-of-force direc­tive, cleared the state po­lice troop­ers say­ing their deadly force was jus­ti­fied and there was no need to put the mat­ter be­fore a grand jury.

The AG’s of­fice de­ter­mined the “undis­puted facts in­di­cated the use of force was jus­ti­fied un­der the law.”

“An of­fi­cer may use deadly force in New Jer­sey when the of­fi­cer rea­son­ably be­lieves it is im­me­di­ately nec­es­sary to pro­tect the of­fi­cer or an­other per­son from im­mi­nent dan­ger of death or se­ri­ous bod­ily harm,” the re­port stated.

It was later de­ter­mined that Mie­lentz, a for­mer IT worker who was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing per­sonal and men­tal health is­sues that forced him into ex­treme debt, was armed with a BB gun.

But the AG’s of­fice said in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­ter­viewed po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved in the stand­off who be­lieved the BB gun was a real firearm ca­pa­ble of killing them.

The stand­off, which was cap­tured by the restau­rant’s sur­veil­lance sys­tem — por­tions that were re­leased pub­licly — be­gan the morn­ing of March 20 at the Pan­era Bread on Nas­sau Nas­sau Street, where Mie­lentz planned to meet a friend.

It caused nor­mally placid Prince­ton to grind to a halt, as roads were closed off and busi­nesses put on lock­down while the drama un­folded.

Mieletnz had be­gun the con­ver­sa­tion with his friend at the restau­rant by talk­ing about sui­cide and say­ing he had a gun, au­thor­i­ties said.

Mie­lentz drew a black pis­tol and shouted, “I have a gun. Every­one out,” ac­cord­ing to the AG’s state­ment. Po­lice raced to the restau­rant, and cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees darted for the doors, after re­ceiv­ing 911 calls around 10:30 a.m.

On one of those calls, ob­tained by The Trentonian, one of Mie­lentz’s friends was heard telling po­lice that Mie­lentz was sui­ci­dal.

Mie­lentz had also sent a friend a text mes­sage that morn­ing say­ing he wanted to end his life, ac­cord­ing to records ob­tained by this news­pa­per.

“I was just sit­ting with him. He doesn’t want to hurt any­body,” caller Richard Chris­man told the dis­patcher, say­ing he knew Mie­lentz. “He just wants to hurt him­self.”

Prince­ton Po­lice of­fi­cer Jen­nifer Ger­ing was the first to en­counter Mie­lentz when she ar­rived at the Pan­era Bread around 10:40 a.m., as a pha­lanx of lo­cal, state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties de­scended upon the restau­rant.

The au­thor­i­ties said Mie­lentz pointed his BB pis­tol at her, but she didn’t open fire.

Dur­ing the stand­off, Mie­lentz called a fe­male friend and told her he wanted the po­lice to shoot him.

Other Prince­ton cops en­tered the Pan­era Bread through the back of the store and tried to talk Mie­lentz down. He re­sponded by say­ing, “Shoot me, just shoot me.”

Mie­lentz told the of­fi­cers that he was in pain and that the gov­ern­ment had cut off his OxyCon­tin, ac­cord­ing to the AG’s of­fice, also falsely claim­ing was a Viet­nam vet­eran and had killed 1,000 peo­ple dur­ing the war.

The of­fi­cers de­scribed Mie­lentz as er­ratic.

The Trentonian dis­cov­ered court records that ex­posed his sad his­tory.

Mie­lentz, who lived in New­town, Penn., be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Lawrence, N.J., spent time in a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal in 2013, had crush­ing debt and ad­mit­ted he didn’t han­dle stress well.

He claimed to have suf­fered from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der from his time as an Army ranger in­volved in “covert op­er­a­tions” dur­ing the late 1970s in the Viet­nam War and said he was plagued by “hal­lu­ci­na­tions, flash­backs and anx­i­ety.”

But sources said Mie­lentz wasn’t old enough to serve by the time the Viet­nam War ended in 1975, and had only briefly served in the armed forces for a mat­ter of months.

And a doc­tor who treated him at Chelsea Com­mu­nity Hospi­tal in Au­gust 2013 wrote in ad­mis­sion notes Mie­lentz didn’t have any VA ben­e­fits.

Through­out the stand­off, Mie­lentz ig­nored of­fi­cer com­mands to drop the gun and in­stead pointed the gun at the of­fi­cers and at his own head.

TEAMS mem­bers and cri­sis ne­go­tia­tors tried to peace­fully re­solve the stand­off, but Mie­lentz be­came “in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated” and re­fused to sur­ren­der, au­thor­i­ties said.

Ker­stet­ter Tro­gani, who were po­si­tioned in the back of the restau­rant be­hind a din­ing booth and trash bins, had their guns trained on Mie­lentz while ne­go­tia­tors told him they un­der­stood his strug­gles and of­fered him food.

TEAMS mem­bers “eval­u­ated” whether he could use a stun gun on Mie­lentz, but de­ter­mined that Mie­lentz was too far away, ac­cord­ing to the AG’s re­port.

When ne­go­tia­tors asked if they could help Mie­lentz, he re­sponded, “Yes, shoot me,” the AG’s of­fice said.

Po­lice wit­nesses also re­ported Mie­lentz made sev­eral state­ments about want­ing to com­mit po­lice-as­sisted sui­cide, in­clud­ing: “Just kill me. Do it for me, guys”; “Just do this, guys. I’m go­ing to shoot you, guys. Don’t make me do this”; “It’s ei­ther go­ing to be you or me.”

The AG’s of­fice de­scribed an end­less “cy­cle of Mie­lentz’s “ag­i­tated be­hav­ior” in which he stood up, be­gan to raise the BB gun to­ward the of­fi­cers, only to sit down and put the gun down.

At one point, he smoked a cig­a­rette dur­ing the stand­off, but never re­lin­quished con­trol of the gun, re­peat­edly point­ing it at his chin and head.

“Of­fi­cers said he seemed to be build­ing up his courage. He ap­proached po­lice sev­eral times, rais­ing the gun a lit­tle higher each time. He told of­fi­cers he would give them a five count and counted down from five,” the re­port said.

Of­fi­cers com­manded Mie­lentz to “Put the gun down” and “Sol­dier, put that gun down,” prior to the 2:54 p.m. shoot­ing, which was caught on tape.

Right be­fore he was shot, Mie­lentz “smoked a cig­a­rette, ex­tin­guished it on the floor with his foot, and then spread his legs while fac­ing the of­fi­cers,” the re­port stated.

Then he counted down from five and raised the gun.

Ker­stet­ter and Tro­gani fired their M4 ri­fles, with Ker­stet­ter un­load­ing four rounds, and Tro­gani fir­ing one round.

Mie­lentz’s au­topsy con­firmed that he died of gun­shot wounds to the head and up­per torso.

Tox­i­col­ogy re­ports showed he had traces of an anti-anx­i­ety drug, di­azepam, in his sys­tem.

Screen­grab from sur­veil­lance video shows Scott Mie­lentz point a hand­gun at po­lice prompt­ing TEAMS of­fi­cers to fire at Mie­lentz, killing him at the Pan­era in Prince­ton.

FILE PHOTO

Prince­ton Pan­era

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