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Sunday Favorites: Fallen Heroes


Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Michael "Mike" Wilson was fatally shot this week, taking a single bullet that found an opening just inches above the line of his bullet proof vest, around the collar bone. Wilson was responding to a domestic disturbance in a Port Charlotte apartment complex. The gunman later shot himself.

Sargeant Michael Wilson

Wilson was the second Florida law enforcement officer killed by gunfire while in the line of duty this year, following St. Lucie County Sheriff's Sgt. Gary Morales's death, when he was gunned down during a routine traffic stop in February.

They join the other 761 Florida law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty going back over 100 years. It's a tragic, but honorable distinction: men and women who have given their lives to protect Florida and its people over the years. Many of these deaths occurred during a rugged, turn of the century landscape.

It's people like James J. Mitchell, the first police chief of St. Petersburg, who died in the line of duty, that make up Florida's proud history of law enforcement. Chief Mitchell was knifed while arresting a drunk man on Central Avenue between Second Street and Third Street, now a bustling urban center with thousands of residents. During the arrest, one of the man's friends stabbed Chief Mitchell in the back with a butcher knife. Mitchell was mortally wounded but was still able to shoot and kill the suspect; it was Christmas Day, 1905. 

Chief Mitchell was St. Pete's first police chief after the city became incorporated in 1903 and had previously served as special officer and special deputy for Hillsborough County. He was the first death in the history of the agency. He would be later joined by people like Constable Edward Adolphus George, who died in 1908 in the St. Petersburg jail, by his own gun, after a prisoner wrestled the weapon away from him and shot him in the head.

Four years prior, Manatee County Deputy Sheriff Edward Matthews, was shot and killed with a Winchester rifle near Palmetto while trying to catch a murder suspect. The wanted man had killed his employer following a dispute over money, and bloodhounds scoured the county in search of the man, with deputies in tow. Hound dogs led Matthews and his posse to a home. They attempted to surround the premises when gunfire erupted from the windows. In an exchange of fire Deputy Matthews was killed instantly and two other deputies were seriously wounded. The suspect along with two other men fled from the house and escaped.

Later that night and the next day an angry mob of several hundred citizens tracked down and lynched all three suspects, a brand of frontier justice that would be considered anarchy in the modern age. Could you imagine the St. Petersburg of today, with a population of quarter of a million, tracking down and killing the people responsible for the deaths of three cops, all killed within 21 days of each other, in 2011?

More recently, Sarasota Police Officer Warren Jones was shot and killed with his own weapon too, on April 5, 1975 while struggling with a man attempting to steal fuel from a gas station. Jones was on routine patrol when he saw a vehicle parked next to the station's fuel storage containers. He attempted to arrest the man, but while handcuffing him, the man gained control of Jones's .38 caliber revolver. As the two fought for the gun, Jones was shot in the chest.

Jones attempted to return to his patrol car to call for backup but the suspect beat him with his police flashlight, injuring him further. After the man fled the scene. Jones was able to call for help. He was later transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital where he died from his injury. The suspect, who was an ex-convict, committed suicide following the incident.

Jones had only been with the agency for two years.

History shows us that policing, no matter the age, is inherently dangerous. The Virginia based non-profit group "Officer Down", tracks these deaths across the nation, and so far, 61 officers have fallen in the line of duty this year. As of this writing, Wilson is the latest, but certainly not the last, death of a police officer in Florida, and the nation. 

On Saturday, thousands of people flocked to Charlotte County to honor Wilson. The Governor, Charlotte County's sheriff, and law enforcement from around the country helped lay Wilson to rest.

A 24 mile funeral procession ran through Port Charlotte, Wilson’s hometown, with hundreds of people gazing at the procession along US 41 and other area roadways. By all accounts, it was a sad day, highlighted only by the memories of Wilson’s service, his dedication to the job and his family.


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