URBANA — An Urbana police officer who persuaded a 14-year-old boy who had just accidentally shot a 3-year-old boy to drop his weapon has been named the Urbana Police Department’s officer of the year.
Police Chief Patrick Connolly made the announcement Thursday afternoon at the Urbana City Council Chambers.
Matt Mecum, 34, a police officer who works with the department’s street crimes unit, was one of the first officers to reach the scene following the accidental shooting of a 3-year-old boy about 3:50 p.m. on May 16, 2012, at 905 E. Pennsylvania Ave., U.
That afternoon a 14-year-old boy pointed a gun in the direction of his 3-year-old nephew, Mekhi Woods, and fired, hitting the youth in the head.
The teen, who said he was trying to teach his nephew a lesson about gun safety, said he didn’t know a round was loaded in the gun when he pointed the gun at Mekhi and fired it.
The distraught teen carried his nephew out of the house and put him into the arms of a girl who lives in the neighborhood.
The teen was still holding the gun when Mecum arrived.
“Any shooting is pretty stressful,” Mecum said. “I ran up to where the child was, and it was a chaotic scene, with a lot of people around. I happened to see the guy walk within 5 feet of me, and I saw he had a gun in his hand.”
“Although instinct and training typically draw the officer to the immediate need (the 3-year-old in this case), Matt’s vigilance and keen awareness of the area allowed him to recognize the immediate threat,” Connolly said. “He focused his attention on the gunman as other officers treated the wounded child.”
Mecum said he feared the teen might shoot the gun again, so Mecum was forced to draw his own pistol.
“He ran into the driveway, and I turned and confronted him about 10 feet away,” Mecum said. “I ordered him to drop the gun, and he dropped it right there. I’m glad he made that choice.
“We had to make the scene safe, or else we wouldn’t be able to give medical attention to the child or investigate the crime.”
After Mecum secured the gun, he took the teen into custody.
“Though this was an exceptionally stressful, dangerous and traumatizing event, Matt remained with the shooter for several hours, addressing the 14-year-old’s emotional needs until he was relieved by another officer,” Connolly said.
“Afterward you just gotta take a deep breath and try to collect your thoughts,” Mecum said.
The toddler died later that day.
The teen has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and is scheduled to be sentenced in March.
Connolly also announced that Urbana animal control officer Chelsea Angelo is the Urbana Police Department’s civilian employee of the year.
In addition to her work with animals, Connolly said, Angelo also provides training and support to school programs, police agencies and other groups in Champaign County.
“When Metro SWAT commanders recognized an increase in the number of vicious dogs they were encountering during high-risk search-warrant entries, Chelsea trained the team members in dealing with those situations,” Connolly said. “That training was then expanded to the Urbana patrol officers.”
Angelo was also instrumental in organizing a community bicycle giveaway program in Urbana and is involved with Risk Watch, a safety education program for students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
In addition, Connolly presented awards to several police officers, employees and citizens for their efforts assisting the police department and the community in 2012.
The honorees included Urbana police Officers Zac Mikalik and Darrin McCartney, Urbana police Sgt. Jason Norton, Urbana police service representative Stephanie Bennett, University of Illinois police Officers Darren Lewis and Jerry Sandage and citizens Nathan Pruitt, Emily Laugesen, Laura Wetzel, Buster Ferraro, Corey Mathis and Travis Foster.