Man shot after Panera standoff had anxiety, ‘fear he could not explain,’ wife said

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By: Rebecca Everett and Joe Brandt 

Scott L. Mielentz used to be a hardworking IT guy who was engaged with his family and liked to go to the beach.

But after PTSD from his Army Ranger days and physical injuries caught up with him, the father of two became a self-described “loner” who suffered from hallucinations, anxiety and depression, according to information found in public records.

Scott Mielentz

Mielentz, 56, stormed a Panera Bread restaurant in Princeton with a gun Tuesday morning and, hours after everyone in the restaurant had fled, was shot to death by police.

Documents filed in an ongoing bankruptcy case revealed that the Lawrenceville man who caused dozens of cops and negotiators to descend on the bustling street, prompting businesses to close and schools to shelter-in-place, was buried in debt and suffering from mental health problems.

Members of his immediate family either declined to comment, did not respond or could not be reached. He previously lived with his daughter in Newtown, Pennsylvania, but had been staying for about two months at a home on Princeton Pike in Lawrenceville, records show.

At the house Thursday his roommate, who declined to give his name, said Mielentz kept to himself.

It’s similar to what Mielentz said of himself in his 2014 application for disability benefits, in which he described avoiding social situations and keeping to himself as he dealt with constant pain, anxiety and depression. The application, which includes statements from Mielentz and his estranged wife, was included in bankruptcy filings because the government said he was overpaid benefits.

Mielentz, his wife and his attorney described how he spent 20 years doing contracted IT work for companies including NESCO and Bank of America, though his physical and mental health deteriorated around 2010, affecting his ability to work. Mielentz said in his deposition that he had been “in a psychiatric ward for a bit of time,” but did not elaborate.

Attorney Patricia Mayer, who declined to comment, wrote in documents that he served in the Army Rangers in Laos in the late 1970s and “suffers from hallucinations, flashbacks and anxiety related to that time in the service.”

In his application for disability benefits, Mielentz said he had herniated discs and degenerative disc disease that made it hard to do activities or even sleep for more than a few hours. He also described cognitive issues, including an inability to concentrate, handle stress, or remember things. He wrote that it changed his ability to socialize.

Screengrab from U.S. District Court documents

His wife described him as depressed, anxious, unmotivated and in constant pain.

“Before he worked all the time, more interested in family, not now,” she wrote. “Lost interest.”

The application makes no mention of Mielentz being violent or even aggressive. His wife answered a question about his reactions to authority by saying he could get “agitated” or “unnerved.”

U.S. District Court documents

She also wrote that his mental health issues meant he began to have “no common sense” with money and couldn’t pay bills because it scared him to “see [the money] go.”

Court records show Mielentz had serious financial problems, owing a total of $122,498 in credit card and medical bills, student loans and back taxes when he filed for bankruptcy in 2016. He had also filed for bankruptcy when he lived in Jupiter, Florida in 2003.

Among his creditors was the Social Security Administration, which sued him to make sure they got back the $29,562 in benefits they paid him after he had gone back to work. He maintained that he informed the government on three occasions that he was working, but the payments continued. They settled on a deal that had him paying $4,562 in $100 monthly installments.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office remains tight-lipped about the circumstances that led to Mielentz’s death. Citing the ongoing investigation, a spokesman for the office declined to answer questions Friday about which law enforcement agency fired the shot, and what actions by Mielentz caused an officer to fire on him.

The Attorney General’s Office’s Shooting Response team is conducting the deadly force investigation, as it does whenever the officer who fired is a county, state or federal officer, as opposed to a municipal officer.

On Thursday morning, the shopping area across Nassau Street from the Princeton campus seemed back to normal, though the windows of the closed Panera were covered in paper to prevent anyone from looking inside.

Mielentz entered the eatery with a gun around 10 a.m. Tuesday and staff and customers fled out a back door, authorities said. None were injured.

Within minutes, the street was shut down and police were crouched behind vehicles with guns drawn on the restaurant. The Attorney General’s Office said negotiators tried to get him to surrender, but did not say if they were able to speak to him by phone or any other means.

The Panera Bread remained closed Friday. A message on the restaurant’s voicemail said they were working to reopen as soon as possible.

Source: www.nj.com

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