A wounded Florida K-9 deputy was released from the Bayfront Health St. Petersburg Hospital amid a crowd of supporters on March 17, five days after being shot three times by a burglary suspect.
According to investigators, 40-year-old Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Matthew Aitken and his K-9 partner, Taco, responded to an auto burglary call in an unincorporated area of Pinellas Park just before 7 p.m. on March 12. A witness had noticed a man, later identified as 23-year-old Zion Bostick, attempting to break into several vehicles. The witness confronted Bostick and began filming him, but Bostick ran from the scene.
Aitken then spotted Bostick at a nearby church and approached him, but Bostick fled. Aitken, Taco and Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Jacob Viano tracked Bostick south into a fenced backyard. It was there that Bostick ambushed the officers and opened fire with a 9mm handgun, hitting Aitken three times in the neck, hand and leg. Bostick then shot at Viano three times, but Viano returned fire and hit Bostick at least once, killing him. Aitken was transported to the hospital and underwent surgery the following day.
On the day of Aitken’s release, a crowd of family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers gathered to cheer him on as he walked out of the hospital. Aitken’s fellow K-9 deputies and K-9 officers from other agencies held the leashes of their partners, some of whom barked along with the applause.
Aitken was also joined by his 9-year-old daughter during the heartfelt moment.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri walked beside them.
A cast on Aitken’s left arm and hand were covered in the signatures of his well-wishers. Aitken gave a thumbs-up to the crowd and entered an unmarked police SUV, its blue and red lights flashing. Aitken pumped the air with his fist through the open window as the driver pulled away.
At a news conference earlier in the week, Gualtieri praised Aitken’s experience and dedication to the Sheriff’s Office. Aitken has been with the agency since 2006 and has worked with canines for about 12 years. He has been a corporal since 2018 and is a married father of one.
“Matt is, thankfully, one of our more experienced deputies. Because of his experience and grit, Matt survived this,” the sheriff said.
Gualtieri also noted that the outcome of the incident could have been much worse if another deputy hadn’t been backing up Aitken that night. Viano was working just north of the scene and came to assist Aitken.
“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.
The suspect had reportedly been “waiting” for deputies before opening fire on them, according to authorities. It’s unclear why Bostick targeted Aitken and Viano specifically, but investigators believe that he may have been involved in other burglaries in the area.
Despite his injuries, Aitken remained in good spirits and expressed gratitude for the support he has received. “I want to thank everybody for all the love and support,” he said in a video released by the Sheriff’s Office on the day of his release. “It’s been overwhelming. I’m just happy to be home.”
“He’s a tough guy,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told Fox 13 Tampa Bay after Aitken left the hospital. “But he needs to take it easy. He’s got a bullet in his neck, his leg is OK, he’s got problems with his wrist, but I have no doubt that he’ll come back, and he’ll come back strong because that’s who he is.”
According to the St. Petersburg Police Department, Bostick had an “extensive criminal history,” including arrests for DUIs, vehicle burglaries, drug possession and tampering with evidence.