One deputy was killed and another was shot in the leg Monday night after a man fired shots through a door at the Gardens Apartments in West Ashley, according to the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. A third county employee, a radio operator, died of apparently natural causes while working at the Public Works Department during the incident, according to the coroner.
The deceased sheriff's deputy was Joseph J. Matuskovic, 45, who had worked for the Sheriff's Office since 2011 and previously served with the Charleston Police Department from 1997 to 2011. He was a field training officer, a post reserved for high-performing officers, according to Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas. Coroner Rae Wooten said Matuskovic died at about 8:37 p.m. after being transported to MUSC.
The injured sheriff's deputy is Michael S. Ackerman, 43, who has worked for the Sheriff's Office since 2010. Ackerman has worked in law enforcement since 2004 and previously served at the Mt. Pleasant Police Department and at two police departments in Arizona. Ackerman was scheduled for surgery today after being shot in the leg and is expected to recover.
The county employee who died was Larry Britton, 58, a Technology Services and Radio Operations employee. He previously volunteered with the Charleston County Rescue Squad for more than 20 years, worked on the Disaster Medical Assistance Team for more than 10 years, worked as a S.C. State Constable for more than 10 years, and served as the fire chief on the Isle of Palms during and after Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
"He's at the right hand of the Lord now," a county employee said at a press conference in Charleston County Council chambers. Wooten said Britton died of natural causes at about 3:05 a.m.
Because Sheriff Al Cannon is abroad in Israel, Assistant Sheriff Lucas fielded questions at the press conference. He said two sheriff's deputies live in the Gardens Apartments, and when they heard a report of an intoxicated person beating on people's doors, they called for on-duty officers to respond to the scene at about 7:36 p.m.
According to Lucas, three Sheriff's Office employees showed up at the apartment wearing body armor: Matuskovic, Ackerman, and a third trainee officer who was riding along with Ackerman. The deputies found the apartment of the reportedly intoxicated man and knocked on the door. "As I understand it ... the party inside asked who it was, and when they identified themselves as sheriff's officers, the party inside started firing through the door, striking two of the officers," Lucas said. "At least one, maybe more, of the remaining officers returned fire and rescued the two officers who'd been hit. They called an officer down, and a lot of police forces went that way."
According to Lucas, more than 100 officers from a variety of local law enforcement agencies responded to the scene, including Charleston Police Department, North Charleston Police Department, Mt. Pleasant Police Department, and S.C. Highway Patrol. They set up three command posts, brought in support vehicles, and surrounded the apartment from the time of the incident until about 4 a.m., standing and in some cases crouching in the torrential rain for as long as five hours at a stretch. "It was almost like a theater of war," Lucas said.
Authorities evacuated part of the apartment complex and used reverse 911 dialing to warn other residents to stay indoors. At some point in the night, a SWAT team approached the apartment where the shots had been fired and "threw in a robot with a camera on it," according to Lucas. When the camera revealed that the man inside was not responding, officers entered the apartment.
The shooter was identified as 38-year-old Michael Oswald, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was previously arrested in 2013 on a charge of unlawful concealed carrying of a firearm, but the charge was dropped due to insufficient facts for prosecution, according to county court records.
"This case was full of unknowns," Lucas said. He said he did not know Oswald's motivation, nor could he comment on whether Oswald had shot himself or had been hit by an officer's bullet. Lucas did not say what type of gun Oswald was using. Investigation of the incident has been handed over the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, as is customary in officer-involved shootings.
The incident began at about 7:36 p.m., and it did not end until about 4 a.m., according to Sheriff's Office spokesman Major Eric Watson. When asked why the incident took so long to resolve, Lucas said much of the time was spent securing the perimeter, ensuring that residents stayed indoors, getting equipment and properly trained negotiators to the scene, and trying to obtain background information on the shooter.
"It's very rare that a SWAT team does anything in a quick or rash [manner]. Everything they do is very calculated and methodical, and it takes a long time," Lucas said. "The worst thing that could have happened is, we don't know that the person is non-responsive inside, he comes out and starts shooting outside the apartment, and now we've got bullets flying all over the apartment complex. So the vast majority of the time was containing the situation and then moving the appropriate resources into place."
Sheriff's Office employees wore black bands on their badges at the press conference out of respect for Deputy Matuskovic. "He'd been a field training instructor himself, which, for those of you who are not real familiar with police work, we like to think that we choose the very best officers to be field training officers," Lucas said. "It's their job to take a raw cadet out of the academy and teach them the basics of how to do this job. So I think with both of these officers, we can say with a great deal of certainty that they're fine officers and did a very, very good job."
According to Sheriff's Office employees present at the press conference, the last time a Charleston County sheriff's deputy was killed in the line of duty was in 1992 when two deputies died in a helicopter crash while searching for a serial rapist. However, Lucas stressed that other local law enforcement agencies had lost personnel in the field since then.
"We lost a very brave man, a dedicated man," Coroner Rae Wooten said of Matuskovic.