In recent times, the decisions of police officers are often questioned, especially during life-or-death scenarios where the cop may only have seconds to assess the situation and take action. A tense standoff at the Oakland International Airport was safely defused thanks to the quick-thinking and resourcefulness of a veteran police officer, who literally turned up the heat to cool down a highly flammable predicament.
At 6 a.m. Tuesday, a man was running between terminals inside the Oakland International Airport. The man then barricaded himself in a baggage carousel in Terminal 1, and threatened to kill himself with a knife. The man placed the 7-inch knife near his own neck and begged deputies to shoot him, which caused the terminal to be closed for hours and the area outside of TSA security was evacuated.
“We got a call from TSA, the man passed a note saying he needed help,” said Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Tya Modeste. “When deputies assigned to the airport responded, the man immediately pulled out a knife and put it to his throat.”
Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeffery Hazelitt knew that drawing his gun might only escalate the situation that was already distressing for everyone inside the airport. Hazelitt, a 24-year-old veteran, analyzed the emergency and determined that the best course of action would be to ratchet up the heat. The suicidal man was wearing a thick jacket, so Hazelitt instructed the director of airport operations to turn off the air conditioning and crank up the heat.
Soon enough, the distraught man started to sweat. As soon as the suicidal man started to take off his jacket, Hazelitt used a Taser to subdue him, and was able to wrestle the knife from the suicidal man. The man suffered a minor injury to his neck. No other injuries were reported.
The knife-wielding man was taken to John George psychiatric hospital in San Leandro, according to the sheriff's office. The man was not arrested for the airport incident, but he did have an outstanding warrant from another county.
“Time is your best friend,” Hazelitt said, adding that the standoff lasted four hours, during which a crisis team had been talking to the man and feeding him fruit. “I just saw the opportunity to get him warm and uncomfortable.
“I definitely feared for my life,” Hazelitt told KTVU. “But more importantly, I feared for his life.
“I didn't want to shoot him or harm him,” said Hazelitt, who is a member of the Special Response Unit. “I was looking to de-escalate the situation.
“Everybody has a story,” the hero cop said. “I don't know what caused his mental health crisis at the time.”
“My opportunity to give him one more day was all I was thinking about,” he continued. “I wanted to give him the opportunity to see his children. He was talking about his children. So if I was able to get the knife away, get him the mental help that he needed, then that would pretty much give him extra life.”
In a time of the defund the police and abolish the police movements, Hazelitt demonstrated level-headed thinking that was celebrated by his law enforcement peers.
“Sergeant Hazelitt is a trained professional,” an Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy spokesperson said of the officer's brilliant unorthodox tactics to de-escalate the situation. “His actions on Tuesday were indicative of who he is as a person and a professional. He's passionate about his job, and he always puts others before himself.”
“I hope he got the resources he needs,” the officer said of the disturbed man.
EXCLUSIVE: Sheriff's sergeant defuses Oakland airport standoff by cranking up heat
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