November 14, 2018

Criminal Justice Division Issues Findings On Investigation of Fatal Shooting at Panera

By Donald Gilpin

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) issued its findings last Friday, November 9 that “the undisputed facts indicated the use of force was justified under the law” in the fatal police-involved shooting at Panera Bread on Nassau Street on March 20. 

Following a four-hour stand-off at the restaurant, Scott L. Mielentz, 56, of Lawrenceville was fatally shot by two members of the New Jersey State Police SWAT unit. As a result of the investigation, which included numerous witness interviews, video of the shooting, forensic analysis of the scene, and other evidence, DCJ Director Veronica Allende determined that presentation of the police-involved shooting to a grand jury was not required.

The troopers shot Mielentz with M4 rifles when Mielentz raised a gun, a Crosman PFM BB pistol, and pointed it at the two troopers and other law enforcement officers at the end of the long standoff. All of the law enforcement witnesses reported that they believed throughout the standoff that it was an actual firearm. 

Under the Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive, the use of deadly force by the state troopers was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, made up of investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police Homicide Unit, all of whom operate independently of their usual chain of command and report directly to the Director of the DCJ.

According to the DCJ report, during the four-hour standoff, negotiators used many tactics in their efforts to get Mielentz to drop the weapon and surrender. Mielentz repeatedly asserted that he wanted to die and threatened to shoot an officer if the officers did not shoot him.

After analyzing the evidence, Allende concluded that the troopers’ use of force was justified. The facts and circumstances reasonably led the troopers to believe their actions were immediately necessary to protect themselves and their fellow officers from death or serious bodily harm, the DCJ report noted.