MANKATO — Even the friendliest Wal-Mart greeter wouldn’t have wanted to usher this customer into the king of retailers.
Bright and early Thursday, while most of Mankato was asleep or just getting their day going, a pellet-gun-toting Raymond Mager Jr., was making the grandest of entrances at Wal-Mart — from behind the wheel of his Chevy and right through the store, down toward the pharmacy, not far from the frozen foods section.
Police were in pursuit, of course. And after roughly 30 minutes of persuasive verbalizations, Mager surrendered his weapon and was taken into custody, and one of the more bizarre police incidents in recent local memory was over.
Mager, 47, of Minnesota Lake, faces possible charges of assault and fleeing police. Charges could be filed by today.
The incident began with a hit-and-run call that happened to fall into the lap of Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson, who was on his way into work at the Justice Center. A motorist called the hit-and-run in at about 6:20 a.m. Peterson heard the call and told 911 dispatchers that he was in the area and available to respond. The closest Mankato officer was downtown, a good five to seven minutes away.
Peterson located the suspect not far from where the initial hit-and-run occurred and turned on his lights to initiate a stop. At first, Peterson said it appeared the man was about to pull over. He said the driver held up his handicapped parking permit in one hand and frantically waved the other, driving slowly off the highway onto Bassett Drive.
But after he made that turn, Peterson said, the driver took off. “Then I realized the chase was on,” Peterson said. The driver headed down Bassett and took a quick right onto the alley that runs between Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. He then took another right into the Wal-Mart parking lot and drove down to the eastern front entrance, where he stopped. Peterson got out of his car and then saw something no officer wants to see, but probably thinks about every day: a handgun.
As the driver waved the gun around, Peterson, with his own gun drawn, ordered the driver to put down his weapon and surrender. Instead, the driver put his vehicle into reverse and hit the gas. The sheriff got out of the way, the Chevy hit the sheriff’s truck and driver began to pull away again.
Peterson got back into his car and chased the suspect around the Wal-Mart parking lot for a few minutes. And just when he thought he had the guy trapped in a corner — “At that point my intentions were that I’m going to stop this, end it right now” — the driver hung a left and headed directly toward the store entrance.
As the driver approached the doors, he paused to allow the automatic doors to part, and then drove into Wal-Mart. He went straight down the main aisle shoppers enter when they come in that eastern door. Remarkably, police said, the man navigated that aisle without damaging or even knocking over any merchandise.
He came to a stop about three-fourths the way to the rear of the store, roughly in an area near the pharmacy and grocery. Peterson entered the store, and by this time Mankato officer Jessica Ellis had arrived and entered with him.
The pair approached the car and noticed they had another problem to deal with: gawkers. “Jessica and I were hollering at shoppers, ‘Man with a gun!’” Peterson said.
Some of the shoppers in the immediate vicinity seemed unfazed by the fact that a car had rumbled into the store. Some certainly fled. But some stood by and watched. Others continued to shop within feet of the action. (When it was all over, Detective Cmdr. Matt DuRose watched video footage of the incident and thought to himself, “Why are you not dropping your groceries and getting the hell out of there?”)
Ellis, the officer who shot and killed a sexual assault suspect in a shooting on Grove Street a few years ago, even had to stiff arm one fellow to the ground to get him to leave, after which the man reportedly sauntered leisurely away from the kill zone.
With shoppers safely out of the way, officers continued to holler at the driver to surrender his weapon and give up. The driver continued waving his gun around. “It was kind of like, ‘I don’t know where anybody is, but I’m gonna let them know I got a gun.’”
Eventually, more officers arrived. One of them was Rich Murry, a captain with the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department. When Murry was informed of the driver’s identity, he remembered something about the driver that he thought could be used to authorities’ advantage. Mager, he told some of the other officers, has only one leg.
So 30 minutes after the in-store standoff began, and after Mager had tossed the plastic pellet gun out the window of his car and clacking onto the tiles of the Wal-Mart floor, Murry and Mankato Patrol Cmdr. Jeremy Clifton hatched a plan.
While Mager was reaching his one leg over to presumably lock the passenger-side door, and his body was prone across the front seats of his car, Murry and Clifton pounced, each securing one of Mager’s arms.
When it was over, authorities transported Mager to Immanuel St. Joseph’s Hospital where he was to undergo an mental evaluation.