This article was originally published in the May 2018 Princeton Echo.
A man with a gun is cornered by police in Panera Bread and after a four-hour standoff is finally shot to death. Many people wondered: Was shooting the man the only way to resolve this standoff?
Fifteen years ago another man, armed with a 12-inch kitchen knife, was surrounded by four police in the yard of a Princeton Township residence. After a standoff that might not have lasted four minutes, the man was shot to death. I can recall no one at the time asking any questions.
What was different about that case and what has changed in 15 years to make at least some people in town turn into an informal police review board?
The events of January 23, 2003, began earlier that day when the family of Jelani Manigault, 24, picked him up at college in Maryland to drive him home to northern New Jersey. He had been complaining of headaches and anxiety and the family made a detour to the Princeton Medical Center, which found no immediate problem. But the family decided to stay overnight at the Tenacre Foundation on the Great Road.
While the rest of the family slept, the son inexplicably drove off in the family car, crashed it into a tree, and knocked on the door of a nearby house, the home of investment banker William Sword. Seeing that the young man was dressed only in a T-shirt, socks, and running pants, and sensing that he needed help, Sword invited him into the kitchen. But the visitor became agitated, grabbed a kitchen knife, and began slashing at Sword. The 51-year-old homeowner, joined by a brother-in-law who was visiting at the time, fought him off and drove him outside.
Four Township police soon arrived and surrounded Manigault. According to their account, when one of the officers slipped in the snow, Manigault appeared to lunge at him with the knife. At that point he was shot dead.
As I asked three years later in a column in U.S. 1, “was there anything in the arsenal of 21st century crime-fighting technology that could have enabled four officers to subdue one injured former college soccer player and art student, dressed only in tee shirt, pants, and socks on a cold, midwinter night? Could the death of Jelani Manigault have been averted?”
The column continued: “There are lingering, unanswered questions surrounding the final resolution of this case. Police would argue, I am sure, that no one can imagine what it’s like to be confronted by a deranged man with a 12-inch knife. . . But . . . are the police trained adequately to handle them? Do they have the right equipment to handle such situations? . . . Did Princeton police review the case, and attempt to take any lessons away from it?” Did it matter that Manigault was black?
“While news of the fatal encounter filled a few columns in the community papers that week, shootings of another kind were commanding greater headlines. That January marked the beginning of the third year of the Township’s highly controversial deer ‘culling’ program, which included the use of sharpshooters as well as other animal control officers who deployed nets to trap the deer and then killed them with a retractable four-inch bolt. . .
“In January, 2003, the letters-to-the-editor overflowed with concern for the deer and how the animals might suffer at the hands of the shooters and netters. . . What if the cops had borrowed some equipment from the deer killers, and had fashioned a net that could have been thrown around the deranged young man, trapping the shoeless soul in the snow until he shivered into submission? Would that have been a better way?”