Three officers with the Aiken Department of Public Safety have been recognized by the city and the state for showing bravery in the face of danger during a deadly incident in May.
Capt. Marty Sawyer, Sgt. Craig Burgess and Officer Steve Miano were awarded the Medal of Valor by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Officers Association at an award ceremony last month. They were honored again by Aiken City Council last week.
According to the association’s website, the medal honors “an act of outstanding bravery performed in the line of duty at imminent personal hazard to life under circumstances demonstrating a disregard of personal consequences.”
Sawyer, Burgess and Miano did that the morning of May 17, when authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call on Cherry Hills Drive, according to Sgt. Jake Mahoney.
Dispatchers heard a female victim say the man, her husband, had a gun, Mahoney said. The dispatchers then heard gunshots, and the woman stopped speaking.
“We had numerous Public Safety officers and sheriff’s deputies respond to the scene and immediately establish a perimeter around the house and try to make contact with the occupants,” Mahoney said. “It was decided entry was necessary to protect the victim.”
That’s when Sawyer, Burgess and Miano volunteered for the dangerous task.
“We just happened to be in the position that allowed us to make that decision,” said Sawyer, who today celebrates 23 years with Aiken Public Safety. “Any other law enforcement officer that would have been in our position at the time would have been willing to go in. That’s the type of people that we work with and that work with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Several officers approached the home, but Sawyer said only three could enter the door.
As the officers entered the home, a man lying several feet away from the front door fired shots at them, Mahoney said. A ballistic shield was the only thing protecting the officers, who returned fire.
Sawyer said that was his first time being fired upon by a suspect.
The suspect was later identified as Craig Jarvis, 64. He was lying next to his ex-wife, 68-year-old Lynn Carlisle, who was already dead.
Jarvis was rushed to Georgia Health Sciences University, where he later died while undergoing surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton later determined that Jarvis had killed his ex-wife, then shot himself just before opening fire on the officers responding to his wife’s 911 pleas.
Autopsy results returned from the probe into Jarvis’ death did not show conclusively if his death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or from returned police gunfire, Carlton said, in June. Jarvis’ death was ruled a suicide.
“We received nominations from all across the state, but the Aiken group had gone to extreme measures to do the job they were supposed to,” said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the Law Enforcement Officers Association.
The association is a non-profit organization with about 7,200 members across the state representing the municipal, county, state and federal levels. According to Bruder, a six-member committee of people from each of those levels reviewed the submissions for the Medal of Valor Award and chose the Aiken officers.
“That makes it even more special, that it’s a group of their peers,” he said.
Sawyer expressed regret that lives were still lost on May 17 but acknowledged that each of the dozen or so officers who put themselves in danger that morning made it home safely at the end of the day.
“Our goal is to do the best we can at work but to go home and have all of our colleagues go home safe every day while protecting the citizens of Aiken,” Sawyer said.
At the ceremony in Myrtle Beach last month, the entire assembly gave a standing ovation when the Aiken officers were recognized. Sawyer and his colleagues learned they’d received the honor just days before the ceremony.
“I was very honored and very humbled knowing that the tables could have been turned (on May 17),” he said. “Any law enforcement officer would have done the exact same thing. It makes you sit back and think, what we do is worth it sometimes.”
Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt, left, and Aiken Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco confer following a shooting incident on Cherry Hills Drive in Aiken Thursday morning.×
Aiken County Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr., left, and Tom Galardi, an investigator in the solicitor's office, visit the scene of a shooting on Aiken's Southside Thursday morning.×