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Former Sundre Mountie commended for bravery

Sgt. Joe Mandel, previously a corporal serving in Sundre, said training instincts took over when suspect vehicle attempted to run him over.

SUNDRE, Alta — The last thing on a former Sundre RCMP detachment corporal’s mind when he woke up for his shift one fateful October day, was being faced with a life-or-death decision to resort to the use of lethal force to defend himself in the course of duty.

Now a sergeant serving as the detachment commander for the remote, fly-in access only Manitoba community of Shamattawa, Joe Mandel was one of three officers recently awarded a Commissioner’s Commendation for bravery in a dangerous Oct. 13, 2017 pursuit that started in Sundre and went onto span through several jurisdictions including Rocky Mountain House and Sylvan Lake.  

Recognized alongside Mandel on April 14 during a private ceremony in Edmonton was his partner that day, Const. Dow York, who is now with the RCMP’s K Division training unit, as well as Cpl. Brian Johannson, a colleague from a traffic unit based out of Blackfalds.

The three were among 16 overall recipients to be presented the awards by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, Commanding Officer of the Alberta RCMP. The other commendation categories are for outstanding service and volunteerism.

“Both York and Mandel essentially put themselves into harm’s way to block the suspects and to deploy a tire deflation device,” said Fraser Logan, an RCMP media liaison, adding they, “demonstrated outstanding courage, presence of mind and action during an extremely dangerous and dynamic incident.”

During a Tuesday, May 17 phone interview with the Albertan, Mandel—whose two-week rotation in Manitoba enables him to maintain his primary residency in Sundre — candidly recounted how events unfolded that day, which otherwise seemed to have started much like any other.

“I can say that morning, it wasn’t my intention to go out and shoot someone,” he said. “I just put my pants on like everyone else does.”

Road rage report started it all

When the department initially received after 9 a.m. a report about a road rage incident in town, Mandel thought perhaps there had been a misunderstanding of the situation.

“The call came in that morning as a road rage incident, which I thought was kind of odd considering it’s Sundre,” he said.

The caller had managed to make note of the licence plate number, and when York — who was working with Mandel that day — ran the plate, the officers learned the vehicle was a truck reported stolen out of Didsbury.

Later that afternoon, the truck’s owner spotted the vehicle at the Yamaha dealership in Sundre and called police at about 3 p.m. to report the sighting.

“And so Dow and I jumped into a car together,” said Mandel.

Upon arriving at the dealership, the suspect began ramming other vehicles in a bid to flee, he said, adding the son of the truck’s registered owner tried unsuccessfully to jump out the way and sustained a leg injury in the process.    

“The traffic was really, really heavy that day, because that’s when they were installing the traffic roundabouts,” he said.

The sergeant decided engaging in a pursuit in what he called “congested” road conditions would potentially put the public in peril. So, the suspect vehicle took off in a northbound direction and Mandel promptly spread the word to outlying detachments like Rocky Mountain House.

The two officers hung behind but followed along and listened attentively to what other officers were reporting over the radio. The pursuit at one point led to Caroline, where police were unsuccessful in their attempts to stop the suspects there. The pursuit continued, by which point members from Rocky Mountain House got involved, said Mandel.

A first round of spike belts was deployed, but the suspects again managed to evade the trap and proceeded to head east on Highway 11 before eventually ending up going through the Eckville area. The response also involved RCMP members from Blackfalds, Red Deer and Sylvan Lake, he said.

The rear guard

“Dow and I were way back; the whole chase was way ahead of us,” he said.

The sergeant said his strategy was essentially to provide eyes from the rear in the event the suspects again managed to slip through the closing police noose.

“That’s kind of how it was,” he said. “I said, ‘We’ll hold back and see where this guy pops up.’”

In perhaps a twist of fate, Mandel said he and York were by Eckville at the time — far removed from their detachment’s coverage area — and were about to head back as there were enough members to handle the situation. But by about this point in the chase, Johannson and another member were involved in the first shooting.

“The bad guys tried to run them over,” said Mandel, adding the suspects continued their attempt to evade police at all costs.

The then-corporal was plotting a course of the incident on his patrol car’s onboard map and was able to determine where the suspects had ended up after their first vehicle became disabled and stuck off the road.

“That’s when then they did a home invasion and stole a truck,” he said.

“Dow and I saw them in this one area, so we went out to try and set up a spike belt. And the next thing you know, they’re right on top of us,” he said. “Before I even had a chance to even figure out what was going on, they were trying to run me over. That’s when I had to defend myself.”

Describing the rural property as having a driveway at least 500-metres long, Mandel said the way looked clear when he and York decided to deploy a tire deflation device.

“We were both pulling the spike belt out—he had one end, I had another end,” he said.

One close call

But no sooner had they finished laying down the belt, Mandel said he looked up to see the suspect racing down the driveway barrelling directly toward him.

“I look down and where I’m standing, there’s no spike belt. So I’m like, ‘He’s going to come through here!’”

Forced to react with barely seconds to spare, Mandel said his training instincts took over and that while he was consciously aware of what was occurring, his body “just knew what it needed to do.”

“I had to defend myself—I knew he was going to just drive right over me,” he said. “I had to resort to lethal force because they were going to drive over me.”

Asked whether he was so much as even slightly clipped by the truck, Mandel said he just narrowly managed to escape unscathed.

“I joke with my wife that I must have been a bull fighter in my previous life because I don’t know how I side stepped that vehicle,” he said, with a chuckle.

“It was so close to me that my arms were tucked into my chest and I had my pistol against my chest,” he said, adding he could have reached out and touched the truck as the vehicle zoomed past.

While he acted in the moment, he added everything was a bit of a blur.

“It was just really surreal,” he said. “Everything’s slow, but it’s going super fast. I don’t know how the brain does it.”

Training takes over

That’s when all of the courses officers take pay off, and Mandel said he’s “a firm believer—especially now—that all that repetitive training that they do with us” is crucial.

Mandel was the senior officer on duty that day, as York was at the time just more than one year into his first position with the RCMP in Sundre. But the rookie demonstrated that he was prepared.

“Even though he had just over a year, the training kicked in and he knew what he had to do,” said Mandel. “He handled himself excellently. He kept his emotions in check, he was calm, and what I really appreciated about him was his concern for my safety.”

From his perspective, York initially believed his partner ended up being struck and subsequently dragged underneath the truck.

“Because he thought I was in grievous bodily harm—because he thought I was getting run over and dragged by that truck—he resorted to lethal force as well,” said Mandel. “He engaged them with his pistol. He was doing what he could to get them to stop.”

So, when Mandel popped out from the other side of the vehicle, he remembered looking over at a relieved York.

Although he couldn’t recall precisely how many times they fired, Mandel said both officers discharged several rounds. The dangerous chase finally came to a dramatic end.

No one killed and bad guys caught

“After we engaged them with our pistols, it was done—the driver was hit. We had the bad guys in custody,” he said. “It worked out well. I mean, it’s unfortunate that we had to resort to that type of force. But the plus side is that no one was killed.”

And to boot, the culprits “were charged appropriately to answer for their actions,” he added.

“I’m just glad that it all worked out that no one ended up dying that day, and those that were responsible for their criminal actions were held to account,” he said.

The positive outcome — at least, considering how many turns for the worse the chase could have taken—was also a testament not only to RCMP training and teamwork but also the police service’s dedication to the public, he said.

“Everyone worked together as a team to get the job done and get these guys off the road before they ended up seriously hurting or killing someone,” he said.

Commendation came as complete surprise

All of these years later, Mandel had no idea he’d eventually be up for the highest honour that can be awarded to members of the RCMP.

“It caught me by surprise, for sure. I wasn’t notified about it until I believe it was mid-March,” he said.

“I was humbled,” he said. “But also ecstatic that I was receiving this and that I got to share it with the other members.”

Mandel also felt privileged to be able to represent the Sundre community, and expressed gratitude for his loving wife and family.  

“It gave me great pleasure to be honoured and share the achievement with my family, just because they have continually supported me throughout my career; especially my wife Karen.”

Thanked for his time and candor in discussing that day’s events, he told the Albertan, “Talking about it also helps me. I know that as a police officer, we sign up for these types of incidences. But I’m still a human being, and talking about it also helps me decompress.”

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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