Sheriff: Deputy a 'strong woman,' recovering after gunfight with suspect

VIDEO: Berkeley Co. Sheriff Duane Lewis holds presser on deputy shooting
Officials say the suspect was found dead in a North Charleston home of what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. (Photo Source: WCSC)
Officials say the suspect was found dead in a North Charleston home of what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. (Photo Source: WCSC)
A deputy was shot just after midnight when she got out of her vehicle on Harbour Lake Drive. (Photo Source: Craig Lloyd)
A deputy was shot just after midnight when she got out of her vehicle on Harbour Lake Drive. (Photo Source: Craig Lloyd)
Travis Smith (Source: CCDC)
Travis Smith (Source: CCDC)

GOOSE CREEK, SC (WCSC) - Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis called the deputy wounded in an early morning shooting Friday a "strong woman" from a strong family.

Lewis, surrounded by doctors who have been treating Cpl. Kimber Gist spoke to reporters outside Trident Hospital.

"She's in stable condition. I've talked with her, I've spent some time with her," Lewis said of Gist. She's very strong, high spirits and she has a long recovery ahead of her. But I'm going to tell you something, folks. These people behind me saved her life," he said, referring to the team of doctors. "And I cannot thank them enough for what they've done for Kimber and her family since this incident occurred.

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The trauma surgeon on call at the time Gist was brought in said Gist's injuries required surgery, but said, at the request of Gist, she would not release details about the locations of the wounds. She said Gist came through the surgery "very well" and is recovering surrounded by her family. Additional surgeries may be possible, but that has not yet been determined.

The surgeon said while she had not seen the body armor Gist was wearing, the vest "probably did contribute to her being alive today."

Deputy shot while investigating suspicious vehicle; suspect dies of self-inflicted wound

Lewis said Gist was investigating a suspicious vehicle with two people inside behind the Food Lion off Red Bank Road in Goose Creek at around 12:30 a.m. She had detained Smith, and as she was getting information from him, that is when the fight broke out. That struggle turned into a gunfight, Lewis said.

At approximately 12:38 a.m., Gist radioed to dispatchers a fight had taken place. Shortly after that, dispatchers lost contact with her.

Gist was hit multiple times. Lewis said it is possible the suspect, who was later identified as 36-year-old Travis Smith, was hit as well.

"She did get some shots off, she did return fire," Lewis said.

Smith fled the scene while Gist made it to a roadway where Good Samaritans spotted her and called 911.

Information from Smith's vehicle, still on scene in Goose Creek, was registered to the North Charleston home on Bexley Street where Smith was eventually found. Berkeley and Charleston county deputies, officers from North Charleston, Goose Creek, Hanahan and a K-9 unit responded to the scene.

Officials said he was holed up in the home, injured and bleeding, when officers first responded. Three other people were able to get out of the home.

Many of the people who live near Bexley Street were asleep when authorities arrived at the home early Friday morning. They said they didn't know what had happened until they opened up their front doors, many around 7:00 a.m.

"I didn't see anything going on until I got up and saw all the police cars," said James Miller, of North Charleston.

Delores Matthews lives in one of the houses near where the standoff took place. She said she was awakened early this morning when she heard yelling.

"Something happened this morning, about quarter to 2:00," she said. "It was like somebody was screaming in my backyard. It sounded like a woman's voice... but I couldn't make out what she was saying."

A spokesman for the North Charleston Police Department said a SWAT team found the suspect in the overnight shooting deceased inside a home on Bexley Street after a standoff.

Several homeowners mentioned the neighborhood is usually quiet, and doesn't see any action like what took place Friday.

However, many neighbors agreed that there was something "off" about the home where the suspect was found.

"Just different people going in and out," Matthews said. "I really don't know. One minute I'd notice a man and a woman, then the next minute there's two men. I really don't know who's living over there."

"There [have] been several problems with that house in the past," Miller added. "The cops have been there four or five times since I've been there in just the last few years. There's always something going on."

Lewis: 'I don't know why it happened'

Court documents indicate Smith had a short criminal record with nothing violent listed. With Smith dead, authorities may never know why his encounter with Gist ended in gunfire.

"I tell folks all the time we're like a family," Lewis said. "When something like this happens, it affects us all. But we're strong. We got a lot of community support and a lot of people are praying for us, and I'm thankful for that. Any time these things happen, it just shows the danger of the business we're in. Just something as simple as a suspicious vehicle, and it turned out to be something like this."

The State Law Enforcement Division is conducting an investigation into the incident. Lewis said an internal investigation at the sheriff's office is also underway "to determine more facts and more details about what actually occurred."

A person the deputy had in her patrol vehicle has been interviewed and will not be charged in the incident, Chief Deputy Mike Cochran said.

Gist was not wearing a body camera at the time of the incident.

"We won't have all the answers quickly for you," Lewis said. "We will give them to you as soon as we can, and again, y'all know these investigations take time. I don't know why it happened. I know that Deputy Gist was conducting pro-active police work, looking at a suspicious situation, and ultimately led to where we are today."

The sheriff acknowledged problems in the area.

"We do get a number of gunfire calls from the apartment complexes in those areas," Lewis said. "It's a busy place for us. We spend a lot of time there trying to be proactive and trying protecting the citizens out there, and that's exactly what Kimber was doing."

Lewis called violence against police a trend growing nationally.

"I think we are seeing a trend in society that folks are becoming more violent with law enforcement," Lewis said. "The public expects us to be out there to protect them, and take care of them and keep them safe, and you know, it's a dirty job sometimes. And it's a dangerous job."

Lewis said law enforcement officers rely on their training and said he believes Gist survived the shooting because she relied on her training.

He also addressed questions about Gist patrolling the area alone, saying he would love to have deputies patrolling in teams.

"In this day and time with budgets the way they are, you know, I'm trying to get as many deputies on the road to answer the calls that the community requires. There's some pros and cons to having that. It's certainly something we always look at when we're planning and trying to make our strategies for upcoming budgets."

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