81ºF

Officer shot at, suspects sought in NW Jax

Officer monitoring abandoned vehicles shot at by suspect, not harmed

photo


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three men are being sought after an officer was shot at Tuesday in Northwest Jacksonville, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Around 3:45 a.m. a call was made to JSO, reporting suspicious vehicles in an empty lot on Scott Street, near Edgewood Avenue West.

When Officer Matt Hice arrived, he found that two cars were stuck in the mud inside the empty lot.

Hice stayed at the scene to see if anyone would return to the vehicles. Moments later, three men returned to the lot and attempted to retrieve the vehicles out of the mud.

Hice called for backup and got out of his patrol car, when he was noticed by the three suspects. One of the suspects pulled out a gun and fired a shot at the officer.

Hice was not hit or injured.

"Luckily the officer was not struck and there were no structural damages that were found from that shot," said JSO Director Tom Hackney. "He's a little shook up. It's a hard job. It's even harder with some of the violence you face on a daily basis. This is pretty significant violence when some of the suspects you're trying to apprehend fire at you. Thankfully, he's able to go home and spend Christmas with his family alive."

JSO said Hice did not call out to the suspects or approach them.

"The officer was not in his car when the suspects first noticed him. He was on foot and it was when the suspects noticed him that they fired... The suspects just happened to notice he was there," said Hackney.

The suspects then got back into their car, leaving the other two abandoned vehicles, and fled.

A short distance later, the suspects crashed into a phone pole.

"They fled on foot and we've set up a perimeter trying to catch them," said Hackney.
During the preliminary investigation, officers found out some of the vehicles were stolen.
"One of the two cars that are stuck in the mud, one of them was stolen out of Clay County. The vehicle that crashed into the pole was also stolen," said Hackney.

The stolen car stuck in the mud belonged to John Vandale, a resident of the Orange Park Country Club gated community. 

"My mother in law called me from Tennessee. The car is registered in both our names. She called me up and said, 'What's going on with the car?' I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'Well, evidently there was a shootout and all this. Your car's stolen.' I said, 'What?!' So I walked outside and checked, and my car was gone," Vandale said. "We got home last night after Christmas shopping right around 12 o'clock and the car was there. Everything was fine."

He said it was upsetting that someone would steal something he worked hard for. The car also was so damaged that he had to have it towed away.

"They don't want to meet me in person," Vandale said. "I'm a little ticked off right now. It's not right. Don't go around stealing people's stuff. we work hard for it."

A gun was also recovered from the vehicle that crashed into the phone pole, but they do not know if that gun was used to shoot at the officer.

"This really highlights for us that what you would normally think is a routine call for these officers -- just checking out an abandoned lot -- can turn into someone firing at these officers. It highlights the dangers that the men and women at the Sheriff's Office face daily at the calls they go to," said Hackney.

Police had several blocks closed near Scott Street and Edgewood Avenue West, while they searched for the suspects and investigated the incident.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Gil Smith said there's a possibility the suspects could still be hiding in the woods around the neighborhood and people who live in the area need to be vigilant.

"They are still out there and we know they're dangerous because they did shoot at police so they're armed and dangerous, so if you see anyone out there that looks suspicious and doesn't belong in the neighborhood call police," Smith said. "They can come there and check it out."

Matt Hice will not be on administrative leave because he did not discharge his firearm, according to JSO.

The empty lot where the incident happened Tuesday was just blocks from Samuel J. Muldrew's home. He said he will be on high alert while police continue searching for the three men.

"We're thankful that we have help. The officers drive through quite a bit and we appreciate that," Muldrew said. "When you do a crime you have to do the time, as simple as that."