Fatal police shooting at Panera was justified, Attorney General report saysand Sarah Warman Hirschfield | Nov 11, 2018
On Nov. 9, the two members of the New Jersey State Police SWAT unit who fatally shot Scott L. Mielentz at the Nassau Street Panera Bread last March were cleared of wrongdoing. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office released a report on Friday justifying the use of deadly force.
The office analyzed video captured on the restaurant’s surveillance system, some of which has been released to the public, and it interviewed the parties involved. It detailed the four-hour standoff between Mielentz and authorities and concluded that the officers were not at fault in their decision to shoot Mielentz.
“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 said.
According to the report, the officers believed that Mielentz was armed with a real gun, although it was later found that Mielentz had only a BB gun. After repeatedly ignoring requests that he drop his weapon, Mielentz told officers to, “Shoot me, just shoot me.”
The SWAT team “offered him food and spoke sympathetically about his problems in order to establish a rapport” according to the report. After asking if they could help him in any way, he responded, “Yes, shoot me.”
Officers described Mielentz’s behavior as “erratic” and “irrational.” Several times throughout the encounter, Mielentz pointed his gun at the officers and at himself.
Mielentz refused to give up the weapon, even as crisis negotiators attempted to diffuse the situation, and instead, according to the officers involved, he became “increasingly agitated.”
Trooper William Kerstetter and Trooper Joseph Trogani of the New Jersey State Police SWAT unit eventually fired at Mielentz, after he pointed his gun at them and began counting down from five. This caused the officers to believe they were in imminent danger.
The report was prompted by the Attorney General's Independent Prosecutor Directive, which requires the Attorney General to investigate incidents that involve the use of deadly force. Because of its conclusion, the case will not be presented to a grand jury for further review.