Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he was "scared to death" as he watched part of an encounter between one of his officers and a suspect that was captured on "Live PD" last Saturday night.
Lott spoke in an extended interview with News19 about the incident that involved Deputy Chris Mastrianni and a suspect that has pursuing, 22-year-old Bryan Martin. Martin had his two-year-old daughter in the car with him at the time, and the incident became the talk of Columbia last weekend.
"[Mastrianni] had no idea that guy was going to jump out of the car like he did and have a baby with him then start fighting him," Lott said. "I think that shows the unpredictability of what happens with law enforcement."
It all started with a call of shots fired at a party. Mastrianni was one of the officers who responded, and when he got there, deputies say the Martin drove off in a van. Deputies pursued, and Martin sped up. He crashed a few minutes later.
Lott said Mastrianni wasn't aware a child was involved at that time.
"He had no clue that the child was in the car, no clue what they guy was going to do," Lott said.
A crew from "Live PD," the "A&E" show that follows Richland deputies on Friday and Saturday nights, was there, and captured what happened next. The suspect got out of the vehicle with his daughter in one arm, and when he and Mastrianni got into a struggle. Eventually, he put the girl down, and Mastrianni was able to wrestle Martin to the grab and start restraining him.
Lott said he was just like a viewer at that point, and was alarmed when he saw the suspect reach toward his pocket during the scuffle.
"Scared to death," Lott recalled. "He [Mastrianni] said when he was struggling with him, he kind of felt around him and he didn't feel a gun but he didn't realize he'd actually went into his pocket like he did. My reaction is like everybody else's reaction that was like (Lott gasped) and hoping he's not going to come out with a knife or come out with a gun but fortunately he didn't."
Neither Mastrianni nor Bryant suffered any serious injuries. At first it was believed the girl didn't either, but Lott said on Wednesday, they learned the girl had a broken arm as a result of what happened. Lott says they're looking at upgrading the charges against Bryant because of that fact.
"You look what he did with that child. That child's got a broken arm now. And I watched the tape again last night...He slung her like a rag doll. And to watch her get slung around like that it's a two-year-old child, we're very lucky she's only got a broken arm and that's cause of him. Not what Mastrianni was doing. He was slinging that child around. He's the one that caused that child to be in danger and caused her to have her arm broken."
The sheriff said Bryant is a documented gang member, who posts pictures on social media in gang colors and using gang signs.
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Lott said he's upset that some citizens at the scene stood by and chose to record it with their cell phones instead of helping Mastrianni when he asked for assistance.
"That's what's so disappointing to me, iIs the one percent of our community that we saw the other night that stood by and did not give him help. And that's the one percent if they needed something we're going to be the first one they call and expect us to come but when Deputy Mastrianni needed help the other night, they didn't help him. Even though that one percent feels that way against law enforcement, our job is to protect 100 percent, and we protect 100 percent. We don't exclude that one percent like they excluded us the other night."
"His training cut right in"
Lott praised Mastrianni for resolving the problem without a weapon.
"Very quickly he had to look and see did this guy have a weapon and he saw that the guy didn't have a weapon so there was no need for him to use him weapon. And I think, in his mind, physically, I think I can take this guy physically. If it had escalated to the point where he'd had to take the next level then he'd have probably went to his taser. And then again deadly force would have been the last resort."
Lott said Mastrianni had to make an evaluation in his mind quickly.
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"The guys not hurting me, I can control him to a certain point, help's on the way, all I need to do is just hold on. And that's what he did."
"That's a very quick though process that you have to do, and Mastrianni went through that very quickly. You perform like you train. And we do a lot of training. And you saw that the other night. He didn't have time to think really. His training cut right in. He did everything in his training. All the way back to his college wrestling days. You saw some wrestling moves that he put that he was able to subdue. That's what he wanted to do to the guy. He didn't want to hurt him. He wanted to subdue him and hold him long enough until help arrived and they were able then to get him handcuffed."
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Since the incident, Mastrianni has gotten teddy bears from around the world from supporters who know that he likes to give stuffed animals to children who may be at crime scenes.
'Live PD is the Future'
Sheriff Lott says he sees no reason to stop working with Live PD. But he says it gives the public a valuable insight into what his officers face every day.
"I know some people criticize, saying it's making us look bad. It's just showing what's going on out there. I kinda equate this to back in the late 90s when I started talking about gangs and people were saying 'oh my goodness we don't have gangs' they put their head in the sand.
That's what these deputies are facing every day out here and our community needs to know that and realize it and then we need to work as a community to stop things from happening like that."
Despite the dramatics that people see, Lott says there are slow nights, and his officers never try to make a situation that would be compelling for viewers.
"We make sure that we don't create the news. We don't create something. All of our deputies are instructed you go out and you do your normal stuff. You're not an actor, you're not a comedian, we want you to do just normal. And if nothing happens that night, and it's boring then that's just the way it is."
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"This is the future. Live PD is the future. We just happen to be doing it today, before anybody else does it.There's not much out there that's not on camera and being filmed. This is what people want. This is what people see. We're seeing it now. Live PD is showing that. 15, 10 years from now, probably everything that law enforcement does will be watched live."
Live PD has been renewed for another season, and Lott says he expects to continue their relationship with the program.
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