Plano Police Officer Jason Pace had just finished making an arrest and was heading back out to continue patrolling. It seemed like an ordinary night in November 2020, until a call came in about an individual who had left a backpack on the porch of his ex-wife’s house. The backpack contained a suicide note, and the person who left it had also texted his grandparents that he was planning to shoot himself.
Officers knew that the suicidal individual had left on foot because he had left the backpack at his ex-wife’s house physically, so they checked surrounding cameras to figure out which way he went.
Pace said he was one of about six or seven other officers who were driving around the area trying to find him. But Officer Pace happened to stumble upon a man sitting in a park near a pond.
“[I] went over and said, ‘Hey, man. How’s it going? What’s your name? Are you this guy?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m that guy,’” Pace said.
As he moved closer, Pace saw a pistol sitting on the ground next to the individual, along with bullets and a magazine.
“It changes the demeanor a little bit at that point,” Pace says. “[I’m] kind of giving him some commands like, ‘Keep your hands where I can see them. Don’t reach for the pistol.’ You know, trying to stay calm, but at the same time, obviously, it’s changed a little bit now. At that point, there’s a decision I’ve got to make — do I move in as close as I am and try to get the gun away from him quickly or take a different action?”
And while Pace was not expecting to save someone’s life that night, he did.
On Jan. 8, the Plano Sunrise Rotary Club recognized Pace as Officer of the Quartet for his handling of the situation.
“I didn’t find out about it until about a day before the actual award ceremony, so it was kind of sudden, but it was nice to get that recognition from people from my community,” Pace said.
But before he was a police officer, Pace said he was part of a large company, where there was “a lot of insulation” between the work he was doing and the “frontline impact” of it.
He wanted more — he wanted a job where he could get out into the Plano community, which he and his family have lived in since 2008, and create an impact. He joined the Plano Police Department in April of 2017 and has been on patrol for about three years.
“[I] kind of fell in love with the community first, and then saw how well the government, the law enforcement agency works and just went with that,” Pace said.
Pace said his first encounter with an unarmed suicidal individual probably took place during his field training in late 2017. Typically, Pace said the calls the police department gets about suicidal individuals are people who are threatening to kill themselves by overdosing on medication or have already overdosed.
“I couldn’t tell you, honestly, the details of the very first one because I’ve had to deal with so many,” Pace said in regard to his first encounter with an unarmed, suicidal individual.
But his encounter with the individual he received recognition for was the first time he has ever had to directly face an armed, suicidal person.
“We’ve had calls before where, you know, a lot of us show up on a call, and there was an armed, suicidal person there, but I have never had to directly interact with that subject until this incident,” Pace said.
While searching a neighboring park for the suicidal individual, Pace noticed a man wearing a dark, button-down shirt and blue jeans. The person didn’t fit the description — officers were told he was wearing a white shirt. But Pace approached anyway just to be sure.
It was late, and the playground nearby was vacant. It was just Pace and a 6-foot tall man sitting with his back leaned up against a tree by the edge of a pond at the park.
The man was intoxicated. But Pace said he didn’t even know until afterward. The man’s demeanor was not aggressive. He was solely focused on his intentions to hurt himself, not Pace.
But the discovery of the gun made Pace decide to take action. He rushed in to grab the pistol, but the individual got it first. Pace had to “reach and grab his wrist and control his hand with his hand on the gun.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to hurt you,” the armed suicidal individual repeated over and over again to Pace as they fought for the pistol.
After both struggled for control of the gun, the suicidal individual ended up throwing the gun into the pond he was sitting next to, eliminating the risk of harm to himself or Pace. Pace then handcuffed him, and his backup arrived about 30 seconds later.
“It’s one of those things that happened so fast that the only thing I [was thinking about was] his safety and my safety,” Pace says. “So I’m trying to keep him from killing himself, and at the same time, if he did decide to reach up and shoot himself while I’m that close to him, there’s some danger for me there, too. It happened so fast that I didn’t stop to think about all the consequences of the things that could have gone wrong until after the fact when I got a few minutes to slow down and breathe.”
The individual was a convicted felon. Pace says officers took him into custody on some criminal charges and to ensure his safety. The fire department came out later to get the gun out of the pond.
Law enforcement transported the individual to the Collin County Jail but he was, at least, still alive.
Officer of the Quartet
The day Pace was recognized for his handling of the situation fell on a Friday. He and Plano Police Chief Ed Drain were invited to one of the Plano Sunrise Rotary Club’s regular meetings at a local restaurant.
And while the award presentation only lasted about an hour or so, Pace said it felt “really nice” to be recognized for saving a life while on the job.
Recognition aside, Pace says, unfortunately, the Plano Police Department deals with suicidal people “almost on a nightly basis.” However, they do not deal with many who are armed.
Because of that, this incident points to a much bigger picture. In 2018, which is the most recent year data was collected, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused more people to experience mental health issues due to the isolation, fear and mortality surrounding it, leading to more suicides.
According to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from June 24-30, 2020, of U.S. adults, suicidal ideation increased substantially. Twice as many survey respondents, 10.7%, reported “serious consideration” of suicide in the past 30 days than throughout 2018, which was just 4.3%, according to the CDC.
The same CDC survey also found that 31% of U.S. adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms, 13% reported that they started or increased substance abuse and 26% reported trauma/stress-related disorder symptoms.
But while the issue is widespread, Pace said saving at least one life is “pretty fantastic” and a “good feeling.”
“I think this job is a calling,” Pace said. “There are a lot of people here that work in Plano that feel that way. And it’s one of those things that I got into this line of work to do.”
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support.