The New Jersey Attorney General has cleared law enforcement in the fatal police-involved shooting of a former Upper Makefield man.
In a press release on Friday, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Director Veronica Allende cleared New Jersey State Police Trooper William Kerstetter and Trooper Joseph Trogani, both are SWAT officers, in the shooting of Scott L. Mielentz, 56, of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. He was shot as he displayed what later turned out to be Crosman PFM BB Pistol during a standoff at Panera Bread location on Nassau Street in Princeton in March.
The case was investigated by members of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and New Jersey State Police Homicide Unit, who reported out of their usual chain of command to Allende. The direct reporting to Allende was part of the state’s system to review police-involved use of force.
In their report, investigators said Mielentz had set up a meeting with a friend at the Panera. While with his friend, he began discussing suicide and pulled the gun. He announced to everyone he had a gun and ordered them out of the chain eatery, authorities said.
“There’s a guy with a gun at Panera,” the first 9-1-1 caller said.
Two friends said Mielentz had informed them he was attempting to kill himself before the standoff began. While he was at the Panera, Princeton police were already attempting to contact Mielentz after learning of the troubling messages, authorities said.
A Princeton officer arrived at the Panera first and encountered Mielentz. He pointed the gun at her and she was able to get away, authorities said.
Other arriving police entered through the rear of the eatery and tried to talk down Mielentz.
“Shoot me, just shoot me,” he reportedly said.
“Mielentz told the officers that he was in pain and that the government had cut off his OxyContin. He falsely claimed he was a Vietnam veteran and had killed 1,000 people during the war. Those officers described Mielentz as erratic and irrational. He ignored officer commands to drop the gun and instead pointed the gun at the officers and at his own head. The State Police [SWAT] Unit and other officers responded to the scene,” the attorney general’s press release said.
Local, county, state, and federal law enforcement surrounded the Panera and SWAT operators worked to contain Mielentz to the inside of the Panera that sits in Princeton’s downtown.
From the attorney general’s report:
During the four-hour standoff, negotiators used many tactics in their efforts to get Mielentz to drop the weapon and surrender. They offered him food and spoke sympathetically about his problems in order to establish a rapport. They asked if they could help him in any way, and he responded “Yes, shoot me.” Mielentz repeatedly asserted that he wanted to die and threatened to shoot an officer if the officers did not shoot him. He engaged in a cycle of agitated behavior. 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. 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. Officers repeatedly commanded “Put the gun down” and “Soldier, put that gun down.” At one point, Mielentz held up a check and told negotiators it was a $5,000 check to be given to his son when he died.
Mielentz repeated that he was a soldier and a marksman, falsely asserting again that he had killed hundreds in the military. Negotiators talked to him about his experience in the armed services and at one point said he could be an advocate for those suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Just do this, guys. I’m going to shoot you, guys. Don’t make me do this,” Mielentz reportedly said before being shot.
The shooting occurred at 2:54 p.m. In the final moments before the shooting, Mielentz walked out of the dining area he had occupied and faced the TEAMS members and negotiators while holding the gun pointed forward at a downward angle at his waist. He smoked a cigarette, extinguished it on the floor with his foot, and then spread his legs while facing the officers. Witnesses reported that, as he had done before, Mielentz counted down from five. Mielentz began to raise the gun hesitantly as officers pleaded with him not to do it. He then raised the gun up so that it was pointing at the TEAMS members and negotiators. At that point, Troopers Kerstetter and Trogani fired their M4 rifles, fatally wounding Mielentz. Kerstetter fired four rounds, and Trogani fired one round. Both troopers reported that they believed the lives of officers were in danger. Mielentz was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy confirmed that he died of gunshot wounds to the head and upper torso. Toxicology tests identified one drug in his blood, the anti-anxiety medication diazepam, commonly known by the brand name Valium.
Mielentz had lived in Upper Makefield before moving to Lawrenceville.
Bucks County court records indicate that Mielentz had had some financial troubles before the shooting. Last fall, the 56-year-old man had a landlord-tenant case before Newtown District Judge Mick Petrucci and was ordered to pay $5,600. New Jersey 101.5 radio reported he had PTSD and depression – hallucinations, flashbacks and anxiety – from time in the military in the 1970s and owned the government money.