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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Berks County, Pennsylvania 06/30/2011

Pursuing a fugitive brought a law enforcement task force into a deadly confrontation.

March 26, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

The opening salvo came on June 27, 2011. That was when an altercation between Matthew Connor and his girlfriend at the Connor household in Berks County, Pa., transitioned from verbal to physical and Connor's father intervened. A struggle ensued between the two men, with Matthew succeeding in wresting away a firearm from where it'd been hidden on the elder Connor's person.

Matthew Connor used the weapon to threaten his father and other family members, punctuating his sentiments with gunshots at their feet before running into the home. When he re-emerged from the house, it was with a bulletproof vest and a shotgun in tow. Firing off additional rounds from the shotgun, Connor fled the property before burglarizing another residence down the street.

Back at his home, a relative calm settled over the scene. It would be another 48 hours before Matthew Connor would fire another round.

That shot would come less than a mile away.

And it would have much more fateful consequences.

On the Run

It fell upon another Matthew to get the legal ball rolling: Matthew Brady of the Pennsylvania State Police Hamburg Barracks. The criminal affidavit against Matthew Connor included charges of burglary, terrorist threats, and recklessly endangering another person.

But filing charges against Connor was one thing; getting him in custody was another. So it was that a call was made to Sgt. Adam Kosheba of the agency's Fugitive Apprehension Unit, commencing hours of back-and-forth communication that generated dividends on multiple fronts. Two key findings—Connor was a previously convicted felon and believed to still be in the vicinity of the Albany Township of Berks County—found members of the Pennsylvania State Police and the U.S. Marshal Service's Middle District Task Force convening in the PSP Hamburg Barracks. Their game plan: Check those properties Connor was known to have access to.

Just as the members of the task force were assembling in the barracks, a Hamburg corporal got their attention—Connor was on the telephone.

The fugitive had called the barracks, which inspired some initial optimism that establishing a dialogue with the man could lay the foundation for a non-confrontational conclusion to the investigation. In a bid to assuage Connor's concerns, the corporal suggested that he come in and speak to the criminal investigator about the incident.

Connor wasn't interested in coming in. He claimed to have friends in the Department of Justice as well as knowledge of the charges being filed against him. He also declined to give a phone number when asked.

"I know you're tracking my cell phone."

And with that, Connor hung up.

Back at square one, the interagency task force began work on an operational plan. That plan was to check four properties believed to be locations that Connor may have fled and/or returned to. As one group proceeded to the residence of Laura Bond, Connor's girlfriend, and cleared that location, another would stage in the area of Hawk Mountain Road to await the result of the first team's efforts. Once apprised of the first team's findings, the second team would then check three additional addresses along Pine Swamp Road: The Civil Air Patrol training camp, the Kody Moyer camp, and Connor's own residence. Troopers in two unconventional unmarked cars were also positioned at both intersections of Hawk Mountain Road and Pine Swamp Road to monitor persons traveling on or off the road.

If Connor was indeed in the area, he'd have a difficult time getting out. Still, he might try, and by means that might necessitate emergency medical assistance in its aftermath. And while there would be an EMS unit on standby at the staging area, the team had something else going for it, too. Sgt. Kosheba was an EMT.

Into the Woods

Telephonic confirmation that the Bond residence had been cleared came before 7 p.m., and Kosheba joined the second team to begin phase two of the operation. A marked optimism that they had Connor bottled up accompanied the law enforcement officials when they arrived at the Moyer property. A woman spotted behind the structure caught the sight of a perimeter officer who detained her. Identifying herself as Connor's girlfriend, Laura Bond told the officer that Connor had recently fled into the woods at the rear of the property.

Armed with this information, Kosheba, Trooper William Spayd, and U.S. Marshal Brian Hicks moved to the rear of the property and met with Berks County Sheriff's Department Dep. Kyle Pagerly and his K-9, Jynx. It was decided that Pagerly would deploy Jynx to search for Connor with Hicks and Kosheba providing cover. The remainder of the team would remain to clear the residence and outbuildings.

Pagerly made the obligatory K-9 announcements and let the dog go. Jynx immediately bounded toward a stream running through the rear of the Moyer property. The four lawmen followed, with Pagerly and Hicks covering the ground in rapid time and Kosheba and Spayd scanning the wood line as they followed.

Making their way deeper into the woods, they happened upon a makeshift encampment with numerous items, including a Kevlar vest that had been stashed inside a backpack as well as a topographical map of the area. To deny Connor access to them, Kosheba seized the items then pressed on to rejoin the K-9 team.

At a second encampment Hicks located some shotgun shells among other items. All signs indicated that they were hot on Connor's trail even as the K-9 had apparently lost his scent. Hoping that the dog would have better luck further on, the men decided to cross the creek. Darkness was rapidly enveloping the area, and the officers agreed that if the dog was unable to reestablish a scent hit they'd establish a perimeter along Hawk Mountain Road and wait for a helicopter.

Upon their crossing, the trackers noticed that leaves blanketing the side of a steep hill had been disturbed. Regrouping with his K-9, Pagerly gave him the search command and released him again. Jynx appeared to immediately find an odor and began moving rapidly up hill and toward Hawk Mountain Road.

They ascended the grade with Pagerly and Jynx approximately 10 to 15 yards ahead of Kosheba.

Pagerly and Jynx disappeared over the ridge. A split-second later, Kosheba heard Pagerly yell.

"Drop the gun!"

Fast on the heels of Pagerly's commands came gunshots.

Over the Ridge

Kosheba scanned the ridge trying to get a bearing on the unseen shooter. Then the shooting stopped as suddenly as it had begun. His eyes fixated ahead of him, Kosheba listened as Hicks moved from behind him and across the hillside toward where Pagerly had last been seen.

"Officer down! Officer down!"

Hicks' words hit hard but Kosheba remained committed to zeroing in on the shooter. Hicks drew nearer to Pagerly. A man appeared in view in front of Kosheba at the 12 o'clock position, emerging from the immediate area where Pagerly had directed his commands.

Twenty-five yards away and profiled to him, the man would have been difficult for Kosheba to identify even absent the camouflage attire that enveloped him. It was the man's actions that effectively eliminated any trace ambiguity as to his culpability for the gunfire: Elevating himself from a prone position, he was now focusing toward Pagerly and Hicks and raising a rifle from a waist-level low-ready position in preparation to fire.

Kosheba raised his AR-15. Drawing a bead on center mass, he squeezed off several rounds.

As suddenly as the man had appeared, he dropped out of sight.

Kosheba began to advance slowly—and saw movement just above the ridgeline. Believing the man was attempting to retrieve a weapon, Kosheba let loose with a second burst of gunfire from his rifle as he continued to climb the ridge.

When Kosheba crested the ridge, he realized that the movement he'd seen just above his visual plane had been Jynx circling the downed subject.

"Show me your hands! Shown me your hands!"

The man remained motionless on his back.

Kosheba approached with caution, as did Spayd from a position above where the subject was lying. Drawing near the man, the sight of an AK-47 lying between the man's legs disheartened the sergeant. He'd had some idea as to who'd been shot but no idea as to the extent of that officer's injuries and the presence of the powerful rifle suggested serious implications.

As he drew nearer to the downed man, Kosheba saw that his aim had been true: A round had struck the man in the temple. The sergeant rolled the suspect over and had Spayd handcuff him, face down.

"The subject is down!"

On the heels of Kosheba's words came others. Hicks cried out that an officer had been shot and they needed paramedics. Kosheba rushed toward where Hicks cradled the injured K-9 deputy in his arms. As he did Jynx returned and began a protective hover around his handler.

"He's biting me!" Hicks yelled in his frustration.

You're not alone, thought Kosheba who, like Hicks, could feel the confused K-9's teeth sink into his legs and shoulders as he attempted to render first aid. A Berks County deputy sheriff finally grabbed the K-9's lead from Pagerly's waist and pulled the dog away.

Freed from the dog's attentions, Kosheba checked Pagerly for wounds. There appeared to be a gunshot wound to his temple area, so he removed Pagerly's ballistic helmet but couldn't find an exit wound or any other injuries despite the removal of the man's ballistic vest and gun belt.

The following minutes were populated with frustration as those on scene worked to give the fallen K-9 deputy as much assistance as possible despite constraints of logistics, communication, and time. It was an odyssey that found the men carrying Pagerly a half-mile to the nearest road. Just as Kosheba received permission to use a neighbor's pickup to transport the fallen officer, a Pennsylvania State Police car arrived. Kosheba remained with Pagerly in the backseat of the patrol car, maintaining his airway during the high-speed transport to rendezvous with EMS. Throughout he yelled at him, "It's not over! You're going to make it!"

But as the helicopter landed, Pagerly went into cardiac arrest. Kosheba and the medic started CPR and Pagerly was loaded on the chopper and taken to the trauma center.

Loss

Despite the heroic efforts of those at the scene and at the hospital, Dep. Pagerly, 28, was pronounced dead.

Matthew Connor, died where he stood, shot by a lawman whose presence he hadn't counted on.

The man who shot him is at peace with that fact. Kosheba also knows that appropriate contingencies had been developed and implemented.

Still, he is haunted by one thing: That the decision for him to provide first aid if needed had proven to be more prescient than providential. He even recriminates himself for an inability at the scene to detect a gunshot wound under Pagerly's armpit. A physician who'd treated Pagerly told Kosheba that even if the deputy had been in the emergency room at the time of the shooting his wounds were not survivable. Kosheba appreciates the counsel, but still finds  himself wondering: What if…?

Honors

Others recognized the heroic efforts that Kosheba had displayed on multiple fronts, first in eliminating the threat and then in the attempted rescue of Pagerly.

Among the honors that Kosheba received in the aftermath of the incident were the Pennsylvania State Trooper Medal of Honor and IACP Trooper of the Year.

Kosheba found it difficult at first to deal with the recognition that others wanted to give him, particularly with the loss of Pagerly's life.

"I think anyone else would have done the same in that circumstance," he says with typical humility.

Perhaps most important to Kosheba has been the willingness of Pagerly's wife and daughter to allow him to be a part of their lives.

"I spoke with his wife at the funeral and told her I wanted to be a part of her and her daughter's lives. That has helped me tremendously because they have opened the door to me being a part of their lives. They didn't resent me for his being a part of this task force. I owe a lot to my wife who is a nurse and who has been very understanding in listening to me. She and my faith in God have helped tremendously."

Kosheba continues to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania as a lieutenant with the PSP.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Put yourself in the shoes of Sgt. Adam Kosheba of the Pennsylvania State Police. You are pursuing an armed fugitive with a joint federal, state, and local task force and working with a K-9 handler and his dog. Now consider the following questions:

  • Are you familiar with your agency's K-9s? Or they, with you? If faced with dealing with an incapacitated handler, do you have appropriate contingencies?
  • How vigilant are you in not bunching up with fellow officers during searches? Do you routinely fan out from one another, or make staggered progress?
  • At what point do you elect to call in outside resources in conducting searches for outstanding suspects? Do you tend to keep it an in-house operation? Or do you defer to a specialized unit?

Tags: Shots Fired, Pennsylvania State Police, U.S. Marshal Service, K-9 Units, Berks County (Pa.) Sheriff's Department


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Bill Lewis II @ 3/29/2014 3:09 PM

A very tragic incident. The lessons learned from those directly involved and those reviewing the incident would have been good to include within this "article" and helped to better serve others along with the "What would you do?" questions. Were any policy changes made as a result of this incident? Was any training changed or implemented to avoid a similar incident? K9 handlers have to learn from tragedies like this one - do not forge ahead of your lethal cover and work alone!

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