On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office served breakfast for the family of slain Charleston County Deputy Joseph Matuskovic.
It was a heartwarming, inspiring, but sad morning. On the one-year anniversary of his death, Blessed Sacrament held a Mass for Matuskovic and the people who loved him most sat around telling stories, remembering his life, honoring his memory.
We all should do the same.
On Sept. 8, 2014, Matuskovic answered a call for assistance from deputies trying to arrest a man who was allegedly drunk and beating on cars and other people’s doors at The Gardens apartment in West Ashley.
The suspect was a man with a long history of drunk and disorderly run-ins with police, and no one expected this incident to be any different. But when law enforcement officers knocked this time, the man fired a high-powered rifle through the door.
Deputy Michael Ackerman and an off-duty officer were injured in the blast, but Matuskovic was hit several times. He died. His body armor was not made to withstand that kind of firepower.
So Matuskovic, a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and Charleston Police Department, became another sad statistic.
But he was more than a number: he was a father, a man with a family. And a year later, all of those people are still paying the price of everyone else’s safety.
Sheriff Al Cannon on Tuesday remembered Matuskovic as a “highly regarded” deputy, a respected man who helped train younger deputies.”
His life was the very personification of the roller-coaster that officers of the law ride every day. They respond to every call, make every traffic stop, wondering if it will escalate, if it will be their last. They have to remain on high alert every working moment.
The only job that compares to that sort of stress is soldier.
It’s a tough time to be a police officer. Matuskovic was one of 133 law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty nationwide in 2014. There have been 83 so far this year, and it’s just September.
Cannon sees this as a disturbing trend.
“The country has been under almost constant levels of stress for the past 14 years, since 9/11. We’ve been at war, there have been economic and financial challenges, racial challenges and people are inordinately angry with and distrustful of government,” the sheriff says. “And law enforcement is the most visible arm of government.”
You could see that hostility last week, when flooding backed up roads on Johns Island. Deputies were trying to move traffic as best they could, but many motorists were screaming, cursing and blaming them for something that wasn’t their fault.
They were only trying to help.
We need to remember that.
Right now, the country is divided by — among other things — the tragedy of police officers killing suspects.
There also is the great danger of bad people who want nothing more than to go around killing people for perceived slights or injustices.
The man who killed Matuskovic had legally purchased a rifle that could pierce law enforcement body armor, despite his arrest record. But that’s another story.
The bottom line is that the only thing standing between the rest of us and those nuts are deputies and police officers, people who put their lives on the line for little pay and not enough respect.
They deserve better.
Joseph Matuskovic was one of those people. He died a year ago this week and while the community came together to mourn his loss at the time — another sign of the inherent greatness of the Lowcountry — it didn’t end there.
There are still three young children who will grow up without a father, parents who have to live with the most horrifying prospect of all — outliving one of their own children.
“With Deputy Matuskovic, Deputy Ackerman, the Emanuel nine, you can see how much damage one person can do,” Cannon says.
He’s right. These days everyone likes to talk about the high price of freedom.
But we should remember the bill is much higher for some.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com