ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland police Officer Joel Neal’s bravery prevented a city resident from committing “suicide by cop” last summer, according to his fellow officers.
That bravery was recognized Wednesday when Officer Joel Neal was presented a medal by his chief.
Neal and Officer Jacob Shirley were on routine patrol shortly before 2 a.m. Aug. 31 when he observed a man walking on Grace Street and acting in a bizarre manner. The officer stopped his vehicle as the man walked up a driveway. Neal tried to speak to the man who then came back down the driveway, carrying a gun in his hand.
The man then raised the gun and pointed it at his own head.
The officer continued to talk with the distraught man in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and prevent the man shooting himself, Chief Bruce Boucher said. Despite repeated requests to put down the gun, the man refused. The man then lowered the weapon and pointed it at his own chest.
The chief said other officers had arrived at this point and all had their guns drawn. The chief said that if the man had turned his weapon toward the officers, the situation could have turned deadly.
But Neal was able to get within 20 feet of the man and used a Taser which caused the person to fall to the ground with the gun at his side but still gripped in his hand. Neal kept using the Taser until other officers were able to pry the weapon out of the man’s hand.
The gun turned out to be a “very realistic airsoft pistol,” the chief said.
The man told an officer accompanying him to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport that he had wanted officers to shoot him and to die by suicide by cop, the chief said.
Neal was given the bravery award because he showed a high degree of initiative, professionalism, and courage in an extraordinarily dangerous situation, the chief said. The officer’s action was taken at personal risk and was beyond the ordinary call of duty, Boucher said.
“It just unfolded so fast,” Neal said upon receiving the medal.
Neal joined the Rockland Police Department in 1998. He is an active reservist for the U.S. Army.
He and his wife, Heidi, live in Rockland and own and operate the Loyal Biscuit pet store on Main Street.