La Crosse, WI - November 21, 2014 - Yesterday's 2 ½-hour standoff with an armed man ended peacefully when negotiators convinced 26-year-old Stephen A. Meeks to drop his knife and surrender to officers.
The call to the La Crosse Police Department was received at 12:58pm from the North Side Walgreens at 2626 Rose Street. Officers were dispatched to reports of a naked man with a knife inside the store.
Responding officers found a chaotic scene, and three officers entered Walgreens to find the naked man still armed with a knife near the back of the store. Officers immediately made verbal contact, trying to de-escalate the tense situation. Meeks had told the officers that “he (Meeks) was going to die today” and held the knife to his own throat on several occasions. Officers also noted he was profusely sweating, even though he was unclothed and the store’s temperature was cool.
When dialog had failed and Meeks was on the move, commands to drop the knife were ignored, and he began to advance toward the officers still wielding the knife. One of the officers, who was equipped with a Less Lethal alternative, stopped his advances (which threatened the officers' safety) by firing one round to his abdomen. This impact stopped his advances, caused Meeks to retreat to a back hallway, and averted the use of deadly force.
As additional officers arrived, Meeks was contained to the hallway/restroom area, and the store was cleared of customers and employees. This very intense and dangerous situation continued as La Crosse Police negotiators and tactical members from our Emergency Response Team (ERT) arrived to contain the threat. They discovered a possible life-threatening complication as one of Walgreens' female employees was in the restroom just feet away from where Meeks was holed up. The negotiations were complicated by Meeks' irrational and threatening behavior, as well as the fact that he knew a person was in the restroom and several times started to move in the direction of the restroom. Officers used great discretion and repeatedly diverted Meeks' attention, knowing that they may be forced to use deadly force at any moment, but reserving that force as a last resort.
After constant attempts at communication and many very tense moments, Meeks dropped his knife and was taken into custody without further incident. The store employee was removed from the restroom unharmed, but very shaken up.
The only physical injury sustained was a bruise/abrasion to Meeks' abdomen from the one Less Lethal projectile fired from the shotgun of the first officer on the scene.
The force used was an example of the proper equipment being deployed by a trained police officer who understands use of force and deadly force decision-making. It also is an example of teamwork and many circumstances falling perfectly into place resulting in a peaceful resolution.
The officer who deployed the 12 gauge Less Lethal bean bag type round was actually risking his own safety, but had another officer protecting him, prepared to use a lethal alternative if threatened. It was very fortunate that the Less Lethal round striking Meeks' midsection worked and stopped his advances; if it had failed, the consequences could have been deadly. Things fell into place as officers readied several levels of Less Lethal Force Options to include Taser, Pro-Jet, and the Super-Sock bean bag type round. Trained negotiators continued to attempt a peaceful resolution, knowing that if they could not stop the irrational man from going into the bathroom and threatening the life of the employee, deadly force may have been necessary. Countless slight variations to this scenario - movements or actions by the suspect - could have resulted in the need to stop a deadly threat to an officer or to a community member.
Meeks exhibited behaviors often seen in Suicide by Cop scenarios and several signs of a condition known to police officers and the medical community as Excited Delirium, often manifesting itself as persons removing all of their clothing; sweating profusely with an elevated core body temperature; and bizarre, dangerous and destructive behavior. This condition is a medical emergency and often has tragic outcomes.
Even though this was not a lethal use of force, and the outcome was positive with the officers’ actions actually saving the man’s life, the La Crosse Police Department will convene a Use of Force Review Panel as mandated by our policy to ensure the proper practices, policies, and force was used and was appropriate.
Meeks was taken to the hospital for a physical and mental health evaluation and faces criminal charges including Disorderly Conduct While Armed and Lewd and Lascivious behavior.
This incident is still under investigation, and the department will be reviewing Walgreens' surveillance video to determine what was captured.
Stephen A. Meeks
903 Vine St., La Crosse, WI 54601