Pinellas Park, FL – The suspect accused of shooting a Pinellas County sheriff’s corporal in the neck during an ambush attack on Sunday was a career criminal who had most recently been released from prison exactly one year prior to the shooting.
Zion Bostick, 23, had racked up 34 felony arrests and 22 misdemeanor charges prior to the confrontation with the deputies on March 12, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a press conference in the wake of the attack.
Despite his youth, Bostick had already served two stints in state prison, and had most recently been released back onto the streets exactly one year prior to the shooting, WTVT reported.
His prior offenses include drug charges, grand theft, and gun violations, among others, according to the news outlet.
Officials said Bostick skipped out of a court hearing on pending attempted burglary and driving with a suspended license charges on March 7, just days before the ambush, WTVT reported.
He was expected to enter into a plea agreement that day, but he never showed up.
“He told his mom he would not go back to prison,” St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) Chief Anthony Holloway told reporters, according to WTVT.
“He simply didn’t want to go back to prison,” Sheriff Gualtieri reiterated. “He decided he was going to kill two deputy sheriffs. That’s the type of people out there that we deal with.”
The final encounter between law enforcement officers and Bostick began shortly before 7 p.m. on March 12, when the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) received a report of a vehicle burglary in the 6300-block of 60th Avenue North, WFTS reported.
The 911 caller said the suspect was wearing gloves and trying to break into vehicles, police said.
The witness followed the suspect and stayed on the line with the dispatcher to provide responding deputies with updated information regarding his location, WTVT reported.
Chief Holloway said two deputies responded to the scene and spotted the suspect near the Brethren Church in the 6300-block of 62nd Avenue North, at which point the suspect took off running, according to WTVT.
The deputies chased after him, scaling multiple fences and running through people’s yards as they tried to apprehend him, WFTS reported.
One of the deputies, PCSO Corporal Matthew Aitken, had his four-legged partner, K9 Taco, by his side, according to WTVT.
The duo and the second deputy, PCSO Sergeant Jacob Viano, tracked Bostick to the backyard of a residence located on 60th Avenue North.
The corporal allegedly spotted the suspect attempting to hide around the corner of the home just before Bostick opened fire on him, WTVT reported.
“The suspect was waiting for them and as the K9 and the handler cleared the building, that’s when the suspect shot at the deputy,” Chief Holloway said.
Cpl. Aitken, 40, was shot in the neck, leg, and hand during the attack, WTVT reported.
Bostick allegedly fired three more rounds at Sgt. Viano, but missed him and K9 Taco.
Sgt. Viano immediately returned fire, fatally wounding the gunman, WTVT reported.
Investigators said they located a second firearm in Bostick’s right pocket after the shooting.
The weapon had previously been reported as stolen out of Manatee County, WTVT reported.
Sheriff Gualtieri said Sgt. Viano likely saved Cpl. Aitken’s life that night.
“If Viano hadn’t run with [Cpl. Aitken], he wouldn’t be here today,” Sheriff Gualtieri said. “Viano was able to kill this guy before he fired additional rounds into Matt while he was laying on the ground.”
“[Sgt. Viano’s] very thankful for being able to do what he did,” the sheriff added, according to WTVT. “He did a stellar job being able to assess that threat. He fell down. He got back up. He not only saved his own life, but he saved Matt’s life.”
Cpl. Aitken was rushed to Bayfront Health, where he remains hospitalized.
He is expected to survive but will have a long road to recovery, Sheriff Gualtieri said.
“Matt is, thankfully, one of our more experienced deputies. Because of his experience and grit, Matt survived this,” he said, according to WTVT. “Right now, it appears he’ll be okay. I think he is going to pull through. He’s got a lot of medical issues.”
The incident was captured by the deputies’ bodycams and will be released to the public after the investigation wraps up, according to Sheriff Gualtieri.
“People need to see what bad guys like this do to good cops,” he said.
Cpl. Aitken joined the PCSO in March of 2006.
He is married and has a young daughter, WTVT reported.
Sgt. Viano, 49, has been with the PCSO since November of 2000.
He has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the officer-involved shooting investigation, as per protocol, WTVT reported.