April 11, 2018

Surveillance Footage of Panera Incident Shows State Troopers Shoot Mielentz

By Anne Levin

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office released footage Monday related to the March 20 shooting incident at the Panera Bread restaurant on Nassau Street. The surveillance video shows state troopers firing the shots that killed Scott L. Mielentz, the 56-year-old Lawrenceville man who entered the eatery that morning, wielding a BB pistol.

“The shooting remains under investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team (SRT),” reads a statement from the office. “However, certain records were released today in response to formal requests under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act and common law.”

The records include footage from Panera’s surveillance system, 911 recordings, Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) reports, and information about the weapons involved. The video is posted online at http://bit.ly/2JvGpUk.

On the tape, a man calls the Princeton Police Department at 10:28 a.m. saying, “There’s a guy with a gun at Panera.” Law enforcement officers from the local police department, the New Jersey State Police, and the FBI responded and attempted to negotiate with Mielentz for nearly five hours. But he continued to hold the black pistol in his hand.

In the video from Panera’s surveillance system, Mielentz pointed the pistol at officers. Two members of the State Police Technical Emergency and Mission Specialists (TEAMS) Unit, armed with M4 rifles, fired at him, striking him in the head and upper torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The weapon Mielentz was holding was later determined to be a black Crosman PFM BB pistol.

Mielentz was a former IT worker who is said to have suffered from medical, psychological, and financial problems. His motive in entering the restaurant with a gun has not been disclosed, but Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter said after the incident that Mielentz was “a person in crisis.”

After he entered the restaurant, which has since reopened, customers and staff were able to flee the building through a back door. Police secured the perimeter during the standoff, which lasted until just before 3 p.m.

In New Jersey, all investigations involving police deadly force are led by the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive, which was issued in 2006 and strengthened in 2015. “The directive further provides that unless the undisputed facts indicate the use of force was justified under the law, the circumstances of the incident must ultimately be presented to a grand jury, composed of 23 civilians, for its independent review.”