Attorney General Pam Bondi presented Polk County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff Michael Braswell the 2011 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award at a ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.
Braswell, an 11-year veteran of PCSO, was previously awarded the statewide Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police award in 2011 and was the Polk County Deputy Sheriff of the Year. He was also awarded the PCSO Medal of Honor and Purple Heart on May 24.
The awards were presented to Braswell for his courageous action during a shooting in the South Wabash area of unincorporated Polk County, just outside of Lakeland. Braswell’s partner that evening, Deputy Paul Fairbanks, also was awarded the PCSO Medal of Valor and Purple Heart.
On June 25, 2010, Braswell and Fairbanks were patrolling the South Wabash area due to recent gang-related problems in the area, PCSO Director of Communications Scott Wilder said. At about 2:30 a.m., both deputies checked out an unknown person who was riding a bicycle with no light on it at the intersection of Plateau Avenue and Josephine Street in Lakeland.
The man identified himself as Matthew Tutt and showed his identification, appearing to be cooperative. Braswell believed Tutt might have had drugs on him and asked for permission to search him. Tutt agreed. Braswell asked Tutt to move around the car to be searched. As Braswell was handing Tutt’s identification to Fairbanks, the stop took a tragic turn.
Tutt produced a handgun from around his waist and shot Fairbanks three times, gravely wounding him and rendering him unable to fight back. Tutt then turned the gun on Braswell as he continued to fire, the sheriff’s office reported. Braswell was struck twice in the chest, once in the buttocks and once in his gun hand from a distance of between five and six feet. He was able to draw his firearm and return fire on Tutt.
Both Braswell and Tutt fell to the ground from their injuries, a few feet apart from each other. Tutt had dropped his weapon close to his body during the gunfire exchange. As they were lying there, Tutt began to reach for his firearm, despite numerous warnings not to from Braswell. The suspect was persistent in reaching for his gun, Wilder related, and Braswell, though seriously wounded, took steady aim and shot and killed Tutt.
“Braswell demonstrated a remarkable ability to stay engaged in the fight given his severe injuries,” Wilder said. “He also showed an amazing capacity to maintain a fairly calm and clear voice on the radio.” Braswell gave updates on their conditions, location and the suspect.
Braswell’s demeanor after the shooting defines a hero, Wilder said. While awaiting treatment at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, he was constantly asking for updates about his partner, Fairbanks, who was in very serious condition. He never showed concern for himself. During an interview with detectives just about an hour after the event, all Braswell could do was praise the agency for its training, leadership and support.
Some law enforcement officers might have given up after being shot. Braswell reacted assertively based on his training and he relied on his strength and will to live, Wilder said. Undoubtedly, his actions saved not only his life, but also the life of his partner, Wilder noted.
Both deputies survived their injuries though it has been a long road to recovery. Fairbanks has had an especially tough road involving multiple surgeries and ongoing painful physical therapy, Wilder said. But his drive to overcome adversity, his personal strength, and his sense of humor caused his fellow deputies and friends to admire and respect him even more.
Each of the 10 nominees for the Attorney General’s award had previously been recognized as an “Officer of the Year” by a Florida law enforcement agency or organization that sponsors such a statewide award. Braswell was nominated by virtue of his selection by the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida Lodge. A selection committee appointed by the Attorney General considered the nominees from state agencies and organizations including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, the Florida Gang Investigators Association and the Florida Retail Federation.
The other 2011 nominees were:
Detective Scott Frantz, Daytona Beach Police Department; Officer Ernest Goram, Tallahassee PD; Deputy Sheriff Con Kelley, Clay County Sheriff’s Office; Officer Duane North, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Special Agent Thomas Roper, Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Master Corporal Cale Stevens, Florida Highway Patrol; Officer Christopher Troedson, Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Investigator Daniel Williamson, Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Detective Neil Zierden, State Fire Marshal’s Office.