La Crosse police used negotiations and less-lethal force to coax an armed suicidal man into surrendering after a 2½-hour standoff Thursday afternoon at the North Side Walgreens.
“The officers saved this guy’s life,” police Capt. Robert Lawrence said.
The incident unfolded about 1 p.m. when callers reported a naked man, identified later as 26-year-old Stephen Meeks, was inside the store at 2626 Rose St. armed with a knife.
Meeks, of La Crosse, told responding officers that he “was going to die today” and held the weapon to his neck, police said Friday in a detailed account of the incident.
He showed signs that he may be suffering from excited delirium syndrome, a potentially deadly condition where people suffer elevated body temperatures and psychotic behavior.
Meeks refused orders to drop his weapon and advanced toward police before one officer shot him in the abdomen with a 12-gauge beanbag-type round, police said. Meeks retreated to a back hallway, near where an employee was in the bathroom.
“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,” Lawrence said.
Officers cleared the store of employees and customers as the department’s Emergency Response Team responded. Meeks’ irrational behavior and advances toward the bathroom complicated negotiations, police said.
“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,” Lawrence said. “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.”
Meeks dropped his weapon after ongoing negotiations. The employee was unharmed.
“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,” Lawrence said. “It also is an example of teamwork and many circumstances falling perfectly into place resulting in a peaceful resolution.”
Meeks was hospitalized for evaluation and faces charges of disorderly conduct while armed and lewd and lascivious behavior. He had an abrasion on his abdomen.
The officer who used less-lethal force risked his own safety, but had another officer covering him, prepared to use lethal force if necessary, police said.
Although police did not use deadly force, the agency will convene a review panel as mandated by department policy to ensure the officer used proper practices, policies and force.
The agency is reviewing the store’s surveillance video as part of its investigation.