Suspect in beer store standoff was involved in meth-fuelled crime spree, police say

A 33-year-old man faces several charges related to a tense standoff with police at a Pembina Highway Beer vendor on Thursday, as well as several other incidents earlier that day.

Alexander Branislav Jovanovich, 33, is charged with multiple offences

Winnipeg police officers tackle a male suspect after a near-four-hour standoff at a Pembina Highway beer vendor Thursday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A 33-year-old man has been charged with several offences related to a tense standoff with police at a Pembina Highway beer vendor on Thursday, as well as several other incidents earlier that day.

The standoff began after Alexander Branislav Jovanovich, armed with two knives, entered the beer vendor at around 3:40 p.m. He initially locked three employees inside, but they were able to escape the building unharmed, police said.

"At some point he started barricading or locking the front door. An employee made a call to 911, or tried to, he grabbed the phone, and they fled out the back," Winnipeg police Const. Jay Murray told reporters on Friday.

Winnipeg Police Service negotiators stood outside the door while Jovanovich paced back and forth inside. For hours officers tried to reason with him, but the man could be seen waving the knives, talking on the phone and smoking inside. At one point he even grabbed a six-pack of beer. 

Alexander Branislav Jovanovich holds a knife while talking with Winnipeg police officers during Thursday's standoff. (Travis Golby/CBC)

After nearly four hours, at around 7:20 p.m., officers from the tactical support team ended the standoff by firing "less-lethal" bullets at Jovanovich — who then tried to run away but was tackled to the ground. 

Winnipeg police use-of-force expert Patrol Sgt. Colin Anderson says police will always try to de-escalate a situation and only use force as a last resort. (Tyson Koschik/CBC News)

"Police don't want to use force and if we don't have to we won't," said WPS Patrol Sgt. Colin Anderson, a use-of-force expert and co-ordinator of the officer safety unit.

"The really challenging part and interesting part of policing is the ever-changing dynamics of a situation. At one moment a person could be threatening at a certain level of resistance that we're looking at and a split second that may change," said Anderson. "As officers we have to be constantly evaluating that threat assessment … the officers have to be prepared at any moment in time to change the tactic they're using based on what the person they're interacting with is dealing with."

Slow-motion video shows police firing less-lethal weapons:

Dramatic end to standoff

5 years ago
Duration 1:47
Winnipeg police tackle the suspect after firing 'less-lethal' bullets at the end of a standoff Thursday night.

Jovanovich was taken to hospital as a precaution and medically cleared Friday morning. Police believe he was high on methamphetamine.

"We're very fortunate that this was resolved safely," said Murray.

Meth-fuelled crime spree

Police say before the standoff, Jovanovich was involved in several incidents Thursday, including robbery and dangerous driving.

Around 7:30 a.m., Jovanovich is alleged to have filled up his vehicle at a gas station on McPhillips Street near Inkster Boulevard. He then grabbed some products and demanded an employee give him money and said he had a weapon, according to police. 

Then at 2:35 p.m., Jovanovich is said to have gone to a restaurant on Portage Avenue near Westwood Drive. After ordering food, police say he demanded an employee give him money, which he took before getting away.

Officers responding to the restaurant robbery saw a suspect driving a station wagon erratically near Portage Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. They tried to pursue it but broke off the chase after a short time.

A blue truck was left near the scene of the standoff, with a door open. (Travis Golby/CBC)

At 3:10 p.m., a suspect driving the same vehicle stopped in traffic on Marion Street near Tache Avenue, pulled out a knife and carjacked a 61-year-old man, stealing his truck, police said.

Police said this was the same truck that ended up parked outside the beer store with the driver-side door wide open. 

Jovanovich is no stranger to the justice system and has convictions for break-and-enters and theft. Murray said he is well-known to police.

Jovanovich is charged with flight from a peace officer, two counts of dangerous driving, three counts of robbery, theft under $5,000, and four counts of failing to comply with a probation order.

More than a hundred people gathered in an adjacent strip mall parking lot to watch the police standoff unfold Thursday. At one point a passerby shouted at police to taser the suspect and put an end to the hours long ordeal. Murray said that's not how police work.

"Words are our first and foremost option," said Murray. But unfortunately with methamphetamine it can be very difficult to communicate with someone."

He said police will always try to talk a person down safely before resorting to force.

When asked if it was necessary to assign dozens of officers to the beer store call, Murray said police have to err on the side of caution.

"It can require a lot of resources to deal with someone who's high on methamphetamine … it's not like in the movies that you have an idea when someone's going to run, so you have to be very careful with these types of situations," he said.​

Jovanovich has been released from hospital and remains in custody.

With files from Caroline Barghout