Some hurt for their fellow officers because they were there. Others, because they’ve been there before, working to protect in a dangerous situation.
“We’re all close,” said Maj. Bryan Zachary with Fort Mill Police Department. “Law enforcement is a family.”
York County law enforcement responded Jan. 15 to a domestic violence call just outside of York. By the following morning, four officers -- three from the York County Sheriff’s Office and one from York Police Department -- had been shot. Support poured in from law enforcement agencies near and far.
“Yesterday was a tough day for a lot of people, and those tough days will continue for a lot of people,” Zachary said Wednesday, after a day full of updates on officers’ conditions. “Especially for those families.”
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Within hours of those words, the sheriff’s office announced Det. Michael R. Doty died from injuries sustained in the York incident.
For officers on the opposite side of the Catawba River, the news was difficult. Some had responded to the manhunt in York. Sheriff’s office spokesperson Trent Faris said nearly 50 units responded, including officers from Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Rock Hill and York police departments, state highway patrol and law enforcement even from Charlotte.
“Several units from other agencies and surrounding agencies helped out with this case earlier this evening,” Faris said in a press briefing. “We can’t thank them all.”
Tega Cay Police Department has two officers on the county SWAT team, who worked alongside Doty and other injured officers.
“It obviously has affected our department,” Maj. Dave Nelson said. “We know these guys. Some of our officers were closer to them than others.”
Law enforcement often has multi-jurisdictional training and multi-jurisdictional task forces, so officers get to know each other regardless of which badge they wear. If Nelson can’t say for certain how morale in Tega Cay is now, it’s because he hasn’t been at his office all week. He and the Rock Hill Police Department spokesperson have been working at the sheriff’s office handling the flood of calls this week.
“We still have to keep working as well,” Nelson said. “In law enforcement, you don’t get a break. We’re there for each other. We do what we can.”
Officers on this side of the river also understand how common and how dangerous similar calls can be.
“Every call an officer goes on is a potential unknown risk,” Nelson said. “The majority of our calls for service, is that unknown risk. When it’s a domestic incident, you have that emotional factor attached to it, which automatically puts it in a little bit of a unique category.”
The South Carolina attorney general office reported 39 people, statewide, were killed by a household member in 2016.
From Jan. 1-15, there were 19 calls for domestic issues in just Fort Mill, including three the same day and three more two days prior.
Some of those incidents were minor. One involved two women arguing about what time in the morning to start a conversation, while another had a couple asking officers “to give an unbiased opinion of their marriage.” Other calls were made after someone dropped a television while moving, and another after someone threw a plate of food while arguing about what was on the television.
Minor injuries greet officers at domestic calls, too. One recent incident report shows a man slapping a woman and having his head cut when she threw a teacup at him.
Other domestic calls are more violent, involving injuries or arrests. According to recent reports, a woman said her estranged husband threatened to “burn their house down” if he couldn’t get belongings. Another involved a woman “bleeding profusely from the head.” Another woman said a man threatened to beat her. Another woman said her ex-boyfriend said he was coming to her house and wasn’t scared of police, and he “would hurt any that tried to stop him.” She told police he had “recently purchased an AK-47 and he was going to show up to the house and kill everyone.” Another aggravated assault case involved a suspect with a knife.
The unincorporated York County area near Tega Cay and Fort Mill had 15 violent crimes — assaults, robberies, sex offenses, kidnapping — in those same two weeks. The York County Sheriff’s Office serves that area.
As York County law enforcement grapples with the the recent news of their colleagues, it wasn’t easy turning the page, Nelson said, to prepare for the winter storm that meant traffic and other concerns. Just like it isn’t easy responding to an incident without knowing the danger that awaits, but it’s part of the job.
“You have to be mentally tough,” he said. “And sometimes, even that isn’t enough.”