By Tony Marrero and Dirk Shadd
Tampa Bay Times
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 deputy walked out of the hospital on Friday, five days after he was shot three times by a burglary suspect.
Cpl. Matt Aitken, 40, walked out of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg slowly and gingerly but without help as a crowd of family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers clapped and cheered. Aitken’s fellow K-9 deputies and K-9 officers from other agencies held the leashes of their partners, some barking along with the applause.
With his right hand, Aitken held the hand of his 9-year-old daughter as a smiling Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri walked beside them. A cast on Aitken’s left arm and hand bore the red signatures of well-wishers. He gave a thumbs up to the crowd, then got into a waiting, unmarked SUV, its blue-and-red lights flashing. Aitken pumped the air with his fist through the open window as the driver pulled away.
It was a welcome development in a case that Gualtieri said might have turned out differently if another deputy wasn’t backing up Aitken that night.
According to information previously released by investigators, Aitken and his K-9 partner Taco responded just before 7 p.m. Sunday to an auto burglary call in the 6300 block of 60th Avenue N, in an unincorporated area of Pinellas Park.
A witness noticed a man, later identified by authorities as 23-year-old Zion Bostick, attempting to get into several vehicles. 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. There, investigators said, Bostick opened fire with a 9mm handgun, hitting Aitken in the neck, hand and leg.
Bostick then shot at Viano three times, and the sergeant returned fire, investigators said. Bostick was hit at least once and died.
Aitken underwent surgery on Monday.
At a news conference earlier this week, Gualtieri said Aitken, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2006, 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 a married father of one.
Gualtieri said Viano was working just to the north of the scene and came to assist Aitken as the corporal ran with the canine.
“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, adding later: “We’d be talking about a dead deputy if things had changed just slightly.”
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