Fla. K-9 deputy ambushed, shot in neck, hand and leg while tracking suspect

Cpl. Matthew Aitken was fired on as he and K-9 Taco moved past a building the suspect was in

By Michaela Mulligan, Natalie Weber
Tampa Bay Times

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Zion Bostick told his mother he wasn’t going back to prison.

Bostick, 23, skipped a court date last week for two separate criminal cases and was facing a possible state prison sentence. He had already served two stints in prison, the first when he was 17.

On Sunday — exactly one year to the day since he was released from prison the second time — he shot and wounded a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 deputy and was then fatally shot by a second deputy, authorities said.

The K-9 deputy, 40-year-old Cpl. Matthew Aitken, was hospitalized and on Monday was listed in stable condition, police said.

The Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Task Force is investigating the shooting that happened just before 7 p.m. in the 6300 block of 60th Avenue N, in an unincorporated area of Pinellas Park.

A witness noticed a man, later identified as Bostick, attempting to get into several vehicles, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said during a news conference Sunday. The witness confronted Bostick and began videotaping him. Bostick ran from the scene, Holloway said.

Aitken spotted Bostick at a nearby church. When Aitken approached Bostick, he fled. Aitken, his dog, Taco, and Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jacob Viano, 49, tracked Bostick south into a fenced backyard.

“In the backyard, the K-9 is tracking, as they go past the building, the suspect comes out, he shoots at the K-9 handler, striking him several times,” Holloway said. “Then he turns his gun toward the sergeant.”

At a second news conference held Monday, Holloway said Bostick shot Aitken three times with a 9mm handgun, with rounds hitting him in the neck, hand and leg.

Holloway said Bostick then shot at Viano three times and the sergeant returned fire. Bostick was hit at least once and died, Holloway said.

Neither the dog nor Viano was injured.

Investigators found a .380 handgun in Bostick’s front right pocket, Holloway said. The chief said the gun had been stolen from an unlocked car in 2018. There was also more ammunition in a backpack that Bostick was carrying, Holloway said.

Viano is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the task force investigation.

Viano and Aitken have been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2000 and 2006, respectively.

Under the guidelines laid out in the task force’s partnership agreement, the Clearwater and St. Petersburg police departments divide use-of-force incidents involving Pinellas County deputies, with Clearwater police investigating those that happen north of Ulmerton and Walsingham roads and St. Petersburg police handling incidents that happen south of that.

Holloway said Bostick had multiple warrants out for his arrest after missing a court date last week. He was facing a possible prison sentence of five years, the chief said.

Pinellas court records show Bostick was supposed to appear in court on March 7 on charges stemming from two separate arrests in 2022.

In August, Bostick was arrested in Largo on charges of burglary and attempted burglary and posted bail. About five weeks later, he was arrested in St. Petersburg on charges of fleeing from law enforcement at high speed, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended or revoked license. He again posted bail, records show.

At the afternoon news conference, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Bostick had been arrested 18 times — 34 felony charges and 22 misdemeanor charges.

Records show Bostick most recently was released on March 12, 2022, after serving about 16 months on drug-related charges.

The St. Petersburg Police Department is not releasing body camera footage of the shooting while it is under investigation. Gualtieri said he agreed with the Police Department’s decision not to release the footage, pending the investigation, but that it will eventually be made public.

Gualtieri said Aitken is one of the agency’s more experienced deputies and has worked with canines for about 12 years. Aitken has been a corporal since 2018 and is married with a young daughter, the sheriff said.

“Because of his experience and his grit, (Aitken) survived this,” Gualtieri said.

Aitken underwent surgery Monday morning and is expected to survive, the sheriff said.

“He’s still got a lot of medical issues, a lot of things to deal with,” Gualtieri said.

Viano was working just to the north of the scene and came to assist Aitken as the corporal ran with the canine, Gualtieri told reporters.

“I’m very thankful that Sgt. Viano was able to do that because the outcome, in my mind, unquestionably would have been different if Sgt. Viano hadn’t been there,” Gualtieri said.

“It was on the cusp of being different,” he later added. “We’d be talking about a dead deputy if things had changed just slightly.”

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