By Lawrence Specker and John Sharp
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MOBILE, Ala. — Portions of Government Plaza and the area around were blocked from public access much of Monday as police maintained a standoff with an “incoherent,” armed and suicidal man parked outside the downtown Mobile government building.
Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine said the standoff, which lasted more than five hours, ended when the man shot himself in the head.
He was rushed to University Hospital with life-threatening injuries and later died.
“We did everything we knew we could to save this person’s life,” Prine said.
“We’ve been out there nearly 5-1/2 hours and had mental health professionals out there,” Prine said.
“We had surgeons and physicians out there as well in an event something like this would happen. During this entire process, we made contact with (his) family and they made every effort to talk with him. He didn’t come out of the vehicle.”
Prine added, “We really don’t know what his issue was today and why he took the decision to make the decisions he made today.”
The harrowing scene unfolded in a usually busy portion of Mobile’s business district. Shortly before 3 p.m., after hours of little activity, the man stepped out of a silver sedan parked along Government Street with a gun to his head.
After a few moments outside the car, he got back in. About 15 minutes later, an armored SWAT vehicle pushed the car partially onto the sidewalk, immobilizing it. Moments later, police fired tear gas at the car.
The man was then pulled out of the vehicle by police after he allegedly shot himself, Prine said.
The scene played out live on local TV as negotiators spent most of the day diffusing the situation.
Police have yet to release the man’s name, but Prine said he is from the Mobile area.
Prine said that for hours, police were not concerned about the safety of police or people within the heavily trafficked area of downtown Mobile.
But the man fired a shot from his gun out of the back of his car’s window around 2:40 p.m., which prompted police to approach his vehicle with the armored SWAT vehicle.
“Anytime we use deadly force is if someone is presenting a danger to the public or the officers,” Prine said. “As far as I’m concerned, (our officers) did a phenomenal job.”
Mobile police, throughout the day, encouraged people to stay away from Government Street between Joachim and Conception streets adjacent to Government Plaza. The Bankhead Tunnel was also closed.
Mobile police Cpl. Katrina Frazier told local media earlier in the day that the man was parked in a car outside Government Plaza when, around 9:45 a.m., officers approached him to see if he needed assistance. That is when he first put a gun to his head.
“Officers backed away from the scene and we called in the SWAT teams and a negotiator,” said Frazier, adding that it’s “unknown at this time if he shot himself or if someone else shot him.”
“The individual did produce a gun,” Frazier said.
“For the safety of ourselves and others, we are working to get him removed from the vehicle safely.”
She added, “We do know this is not an active shooter scene. We are working diligently to talk to this (gunman) to find out what is going on and how we can resolve this quickly.”
Frazier said no gunshots had been fired in the morning, other than one that may have been inflicted on himself. Gunshots, however, could be heard during the live TV report before 3 p.m.
Dozens of police vehicles, including an armored personnel carrier, were stationed around the scene, with fire trucks and ambulances staged to the east. Onlookers to the east and west were warned to stay out of the street and the potential line of fire.
Prine spoke to reporters on the scene shortly before 1 p.m. He described the situation as fluid.
Prine said police were dealing with an armed man threatening suicide. “We do know who the individual is, in the vehicle. We do believe he is injured. To what extent he is injured, we don’t know,” he said.
Prine said that police had given the man a phone and were in contact with him “off and on” but that the level of communication was not good. “We’re really not sure what his mindset is,” Prine said. “He’s made some statements that don’t really make a whole lot of sense.” Prine also described the man as “incoherent.”
Prine said that thus far, police had no evidence that another person was involved – for example, a girlfriend who might have been shot. As far as they knew, he said, no one else was involved.
“I would think at this point somebody would have called something in,” he said. “We don’t have any information to suggest anybody else.”
Prine, like Frazier, stressed that it was not an active shooter situation. He said he couldn’t predict how long negotiations would take but said that “time is on our side.”
Maxine Walters, a criminal defense attorney, said she had exited the building at about 10 a.m. only to find the situation unfolding in the street. She and others at ground level had been shooed to the east, out of the potential line of fire. There had been no general evacuation, she said.
She did not know if shots had been fired at that time. She said as far as she knew, the incident had taken place entirely outside Government Plaza. That was good in part, she said, because at that time people would still have been on their way into court.
“I still don’t know what they plan to do about afternoon court,” she said.
Sharee Broussard, a spokeswoman with the Mobile County Commission, said that people inside the building are able to move around it and have since been able to enter and exit the Joachim Street side.
“The north side of the building is shut down and so is the entrance, but the building itself is not shut down,” Broussard said.
Government Plaza’s entrances have long been secured with metal detectors and police presence. The general public is required to walk through the metal detectors before they can to a courtroom or to a government meeting.
Metal detectors were added to a portion of Government Plaza leading to city and county government buildings in 2001, after a man attempted to enter a Mobile City Council meeting with a concealed handgun.
In 1996, Government Plaza — shortly after its opening in 1995 — was the scene of a fatal gunfight after a man shot and killed 34-year-old Craig Greenwald, a court police officer. The shooting occurred near the metal detectors of the court security area.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
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