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Police talk man off ledge of State Office Building

Posted: November 22, 2011 - 5:36pm  |  Updated: November 23, 2011 - 1:02am
An intoxicated man stands on the ledge of the State Office Building on Tuesday. Police were able to talk him back over the railing.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
An intoxicated man stands on the ledge of the State Office Building on Tuesday. Police were able to talk him back over the railing.

The Juneau Police Department responded yesterday to reports that a man was teetering on the eighth floor balcony of the State Office Building.

JPD officers successfully talked the 38-year-old man off the ledge and onto safe ground in a matter of minutes. The man’s name was not released by police.

“We’re just happy that it was a happy ending,” JPD Sgt. Dave Campbell said at the scene.

The man was placed in protective custody and taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital, which is JPD policy when a person is deemed a danger to themselves, Campbell said.

Campbell said the man was inebriated and that the man stressed that he was not trying to jump off the ledge onto Willoughby Avenue.

“He claims that he was not suicidal,” Campbell said, adding that the man said he used to go to that spot when he was a child to play. “(He says) he was just reminiscing.”

Police later said The man told them that, as a kid, he used to stand on the ledge to entertain tourists.

Campbell noted that even if the man wasn’t suicidal, it was an especially dangerous scenario given the icy, snowy conditions.

“It’s apparent that he was a danger to himself,” he said.

Meanwhile, the series of events gave those in the building a scare, and many called 911 shortly before 3 p.m. to report the incident and alerted building security. Multiple floors in the building overlook the eighth floor atrium, and it is also visible to people in the library, the snack bar and to people walking by.

“I was praying for him,” said Betty Olangco, an accountant on the seventh floor who was on break and walking on the eighth floor when she saw the man.

“It was really hard not to go out there,” one librarian said.

Other witnesses said at times the man was not holding onto the railing and, at other times, he was dancing.

Campbell said bystanders did the right thing when they called 911 to alert authorities and did not exacerbate an already precarious situation by engaging the person. Police said engaging someone in that condition and position might distract them, causing them to fall, or unintentionally convince them to jump.

Campbell also praised JPD Officer Daniel Cheshire, who was the first to respond to the scene, for his deft handling of the situation. Cheshire is a trained negotiator who completed an FBI negotiating training program in April of last year and again this year with the entire JPD crisis negotiating team.

“I was nervous that he was just going to be playing around and accidentally fall,” Cheshire said later by phone. “That was my greatest fear.”

Cheshire added it took about six to eight minutes to convince the man to climb back over the railing.

Not all these situations end well, Campbell said. A woman intentionally jumped off the same atrium in nearly the same spot and died in 2009.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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