CALLAHAN, Fla. – Blood, sweat and tears.
For the first time, members of Jacksonville’s SWAT team are talking about the tense five days leading up to the capture of the man accused in the murder of a Nassau County Sheriff’s deputy.
The team came in to help physically and emotionally drained deputies search for 35-year-old ex-Marine Patrick McDowell, as he evaded capture in the woods of Callahan. McDowell is accused of shooting Deputy Joshua Moyers, 29, during a traffic stop in September. Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said McDowell is accused of shooting Moyers twice, leading to his death days later.
Then, as recently released dash camera video shows, McDowell sped off in front of an oncoming train.
Law enforcement from across Northeast Florida swarmed the Callahan area to help after Moyers’ shooting.
A few hours after the shooting, a team of officers caught up with McDowell in the woods. Investigators say he shot a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office K-9, Chaos, in the woods. Officers fired into the darkness, but McDowell got away once again.
It was around that time that the JSO SWAT team got the call for help.
“I got that phone call around 4 o’clock in the morning,” said Sgt. Eddie Rodgers, a SWAT supervisor. “I was immediately advised of the situation. I immediately spun up the team and we headed out to Nassau to help out in any way that we could.”
Jacksonville’s SWAT team members never know what they may be getting into.
They get calls for hostage situations to high-risk search warrants. JSO is one of the few agencies across the country to have a full-time SWAT team. Where other agencies have patrol officers who are on stand-by for SWAT calls, JSO’s team is devoted to them.
And with a man considered armed and very dangerous in the woods, Leeper called on them to take over the dangerous search.
”It’s typically people who have already been to prison and they don’t want to go back,” Assistant Chief Jackson Short said of the suspects his team is trained to hunt down.
Short, who oversees the SWAT team in his role at JSO, said the agency brought in the cavalry to bring justice to Moyers’ family and keep the community safe.
From armored vehicles to snipers to K-9s, the resources were there within hours.
SWAT’s K-9, Huk, joined other dogs tracking scents through heavily wooded areas.
”It doesn’t matter who you are, what size you are, we all smell the same,” said Huk’s handler, Officer Cheth Plaugher. “The dog is trained to detect that odor and he can locate them wherever they’re hiding.”
With thick brush, hundreds of tips and a frightened community, the SWAT team proceeded with caution, knowing officers could be ambushed at any moment.
”We were taking guidance and leadership from the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office,” Short said. “Sheriff Leeper told us until we can rule out that he’s gone, we’re going to pretend like an act like he still in that perimeter. And he was right.”
By tracking McDowell’s friends on Facebook, officers got their big break. They tracked McDowell to a sports complex in Callahan. He’d moved from the concession stand to a bathroom, but his time was up.
A law enforcement drone captured the takedown. McDowell crawled out on his stomach.
“He was afforded the opportunity to comply, he did not comply with our commands, and that’s when the dog got him,” Plaugher said.
K-9 Huk did what he was trained to do. He sprinted toward the suspect and bit him on the arm, holding him down as snipers had McDowell at gunpoint.
Law enforcement teams, tired from five days of intensive searching, took McDowell into custody together. They arrested him with Deputy Moyers’ handcuffs.
”That’s why we try as hard as we do, our job is not to shoot people and kill people,” Rodgers said. “Our job is to successfully render everything safe.”
”To speak on how it felt, I think it was just relief that he was now in custody, no one else was in danger, all the people that live in that area were safe,” Plaugher said.
As the community honors Deputy Moyers, JSO’s SWAT team is back to training like they do every week.
Members said they have to always be ready and prepared, as no one knows the next time they’ll be needed.