JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An officer shot in the chin during a high-speed chase and shootout with a bank robbery suspect will be able to return to full duty when he recovers, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Thursday.
Speaking at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office monthly award ceremony, Williams said K-9 Officer Jeremy Mason, who was injured in the line of duty Tuesday, has a long journey ahead but should make a full recovery.
Williams again pointed to the shooting as an example of the dangers of police work, and said he's moved by the response from the community for Mason and his family.
"We've really gotten an outpouring of support from this community for him and his family, and it's just unbelievable,” Williams said. “Keep him and his family in your prayers."
Mason was shot during an exchange of gunfire with Joseph Harris, 28, who was later shot and killed by Mason and Detective Brad Hurst. Mason was in his marked K-9 patrol vehicle pursuing Harris, who had carjacked and abducted a woman, forcing her at gunpoint to become his getaway driver, police said.
Police said the pursuit began when Harris, who was wanted in connection with two bank robberies this week, was spotted in the area of 103rd Street and Old Middleburg Road, getting out of the vehicle that had been used in the bank robberies and into a silver car being driven by Tara Carter.
Williams said a 2-mile high-speed chase ensued, during which Harris began firing shots out both of the car's back windows.
Photos released Wednesday by JSO showed the damage done to Mason's vehicle by the gunfire with multiple bullet holes visible in the driver's side of the windshield.
One of those rounds struck Mason in the chin and another came inches from his head, striking the driver's seat headrest, Williams said.
Former JSO Officer Kirk P. Clark Sr., who was shot nine times on duty in 1990, said Mason's actions were exemplary under the circumstances.
"This officer continued to carry on his duty in a highly stressful situation. After being shot, he returned fire,” Clark said. “I remember my training officer saying, 'Just because you're shot, doesn't mean you're dead, so you fight with every ounce of fiber that you have.'"
Police said Wednesday that the gun Harris used in the shootout was reported stolen out of Taylor County in 2012.
Shortly after Hurst heard the call on the scanner and joined the pursuit, the chase came to an end at the intersection of Buttercup Street and Old Middleburg Road, where Carter's silver car ran a stop sign and was struck by another passenger vehicle, police said. The crash sent Carter's car barreling into a large brick mailbox, which was knocked over.
Williams said that's when Harris got out of the passenger side of the car, still shooting, and Mason and Hurst fired back -- shooting and killing him. Harris, a three-time convicted felon, died at the scene.
Carter was taken into custody, questioned and released.
Williams said the police-involved shooting is being investigated to ensure deadly force was necessary, but once that investigation is complete and Mason is well, he will be able to return to work. There was no time table for when that would happen.
Officers at Thursday's ceremony said Mason is in good spirits and looks forward to returning to work with K-9 Echo.
Mason has earned two life-saving awards himself during his career. The first was in 2010, when he saved a man from drowning in the Trout River. That man ran from a traffic stop and jumped into the river, but quickly got in trouble in the current, police said.
The second award was last year, when Mason, who’s also a member of the JSO Dive Team, helped rescue a man from drowning in the St. Johns River downtown.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with Mason's recovery costs. It had raised over $14,000 in less than 24 hours.
Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.