CCSO: Deputy wounded in West Ashley shooting recovering; investigation continues

VIDEO: Press Conference on West Ashley Shooting (Part 1)
Michael Oswald. (Source: CCSO)
Michael Oswald. (Source: CCSO)

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - By Raymond Rivera, Patrick Philips and Philip Weiss

One of two deputies wounded in a shooting at a West Ashley apartment complex on Monday night is recovering following surgery on Tuesday afternoon, according to Charleston Sheriff's Maj. Eric Watson.

Deputy Michael Ackerman, 43, was wounded in the leg and went into surgery around 4 p.m.

"Deputy Ackerman is now out of surgery and recovering at MUSC. He is surrounded by fellow deputies and officers, family members and friends," Watson said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon.

Ackerman was one of two deputies wounded at The Gardens apartment complex off Carriage Land Road.

Deputy Joe Matuskovic, 43, died at 8:37 p.m. on Monday at MUSC, according to Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten.

Deputies wounded investigating report of 'disturbance'

According to CCSO investigators, the incident started at 7:36 p.m. on Monday when two off-duty deputies working as security officers, with three on-duty deputies assisting, responded to a report of a disorderly subject creating a disturbance at the Gardens of Ashley River apartment complex.

The person was reportedly banging on doors and vehicles in the parking lot, deputies say.

According to deputies on scene, an attempt was made to make contact with a subject at his apartment.

While deputies were attempting to make contact, the subject fired multiple gunshots through the door with an AK-47, striking two of the deputies, a report states. The rounds pierced the soft body armor Matuskovic was wearing, Sheriff Al Cannon said.

Both of the deputies who were wounded were on duty at the time and had been called into assist the two off-duty officers.

Investigators say at least one of the deputies then returned fire.

"One of the first things that [the deputies] had to do, they had an officer who was shot and down, they had to get him out of the line of fire after he went down," Asst. Sheriff Mitch Lucas said."They returned fire, but the priority was getting the officers that were hit out of the area."

One resident said he heard several gunshots before hearing someone yell out "officer down." Another reported hearing the sound of about 20 gunshots.

The two wounded deputies were transported by EMS to MUSC.

Witnesses said following the shooting, they were told to leave the apartment complex as authorities surrounded a building. The sheriff's office says nearby apartments were evacuated with authorities initiating a reverse 911 call to alert neighbors. Deputies advised nearby residents who had not been ordered to leave their homes to stay inside during the standoff for their own safety.

As additional units responded to the scene to assist, others went to the hospital to stand vigil for the wounded officers.

Police SWAT teams from Charleston and North Charleston and negotiators all attempted to make contact with the suspected shooter into the night, Lucas said.

A mobile command unit, SWAT units and multiple law enforcement from different agencies were also on scene. At one point there were more than 100 law enforcement officers present, Lucas said.

County employee falls ill, dies during crisis

Larry Britton, 58, a Charleston County employee who worked with the radio shop and was serving the responding law enforcement officers in a support capacity, fell ill and died of natural causes, Wooten said.

Charleston County Director of Radio Communications Bill Tunick says Britton went to the scene to help the sheriff's office and joint command. He suffered from an apparent heart complication and was taken to MUSC by EMS.

"Mr. Britton was an extremely dedicated employee, always giving 110% to support public safety communications," Tunick said. "At any time day or night, Larry would support any major public safety incident in the County."

Uncertainty for hours at shooting scene

Hours after the initial incident, deputies, SWAT team members, negotiators and began formulating a plan of action as they attempted to make contact with the man in the apartment.

Motorists reported a heavy police presence, and law enforcement directing traffic away from the incident. Law enforcement officials were asking the public to avoid the Carriage Lane area.

It was unclear from the start whether anyone else was inside the apartment, police said.

It was also unclear at the time whether the suspect was still alive and had barricaded himself inside the apartment or had been killed or incapacitated in the shootout.

Around midnight on Tuesday morning, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon announced that one deputy had died and another remained in the hospital in serious condition at MUSC, where both had been transported.

"A good man gave his life in the service of the community tonight," Lucas told reporters shortly after Cannon's announcement.

Hours into the crisis, after making several unsuccessful attempts to reach the suspect, the Charleston Police Department SWAT Team made entry into the unit with the help of a robot and spotted Michael Oswald, 38, unresponsive, Lucas said.

Oswald lived in the apartment where the shooting occurred, Wooten said.

"I do think we all recognize the tragedy of all these losses, and our hearts, I think, should go out to all of the survivors. And I would send out my condolences not only to the deputy's family but also to the individual who resided in the apartment, who also has a family suffering loss and a lot of other emotions," Wooten said.

Officials with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office announced at 4:28 a.m. on Tuesday that residents could return to their homes.

The crime scene and the entire investigation was turned over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

"We've divided up the duties as far as how we are responding, rather than the sheriff's office taking the lead on it," Lucas said. "SLED will do the investigation and crime scene work, they're already here at the hospital and down on the scene."

Emotions were running high for the law enforcement family once Oswald's body was found.

"Key thing to keep in mind here is we've got two police officers who have been shot and if anything at all everybody needs to keep them in their prayers," Lucas said within hours of the shooting. "It's something we've all dealt with before."

Emotions run high for law enforcement officers

At a media staging area nearly one mile from the shooting scene, police activity was steady, with information being relayed from officers to the media.

But the mood turned noticeably quiet as reports began circulating that Deputy Matuskovic had died.

At an impromptu press conference, Lucas confirmed the death and said the mood in his department was "rough."

"The [deputies] have a lot of loved ones; both of them have children," Lucas said."There's a lot of things that have to be dealt with aside from the public knowing that a good man gave his life in the service of his community. I don't know how to say it any other way except that it's a tragedy no matter who you talk to or what happens."

Lucas, a 31-year law enforcement veteran, said putting on the soft armor police officers normally wear is a daily reminder of the dangers of the job. "If that doesn't do it," he said at the conclusion of Tuesday's press conference, visibly emotional, "when we put these black bands on these badges, that's going to remind all of us."

Matuskovic was hired by the sheriff's office in 2011. Prior to that, from 1997 to 2011, he worked with the Charleston Police Department, Lucas said. Matuskovic was a negotiator and a field trainer, Lucas said, a position reserved for the best among law enforcement officers.

Britton was hired full time by Charleston County in February, 2006, in support of public safety communications and had worked as a contractor for the county for several years prior to that. He also volunteered with the Charleston County Rescue Squad for more than 20 years. He worked with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team under HHS for more than 10 years and was a state constable for more than 10 years.

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