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Officer didn’t realize he’d been shot

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
EAST SPENCER ó A 29-year veteran police officer didn’t realize he had been shot until almost three hours after a man fired a semi-automatic handgun at him.
East Spencer Officer Mark Smith said Monday his bullet-proof vest ó and a pair of handcuffs destroyed by the bullet ó absorbed the impact.
Smith responded to a report of a prowler around 1:30 a.m. Sunday at 412 Boundary St., at the East Boundary apartments. When Smith arrived, he saw a man sitting in a car near the site. Smith began talking with the man, trying to find out what he was doing there and whether he could be the prowler.
Within a minute or so, Smith saw movement to the side. A large man walked out of an alcove serving two apartments. The officer asked the man to stop, but the man continued to walk away.
“I challenged him twice to stop, but he ignored me and continued to walk away,” Smith said.
Smith then went around the car and drew his Taser.
“I told him to stop or I would Taser him,” Smith said Monday. At that point, the officer was about was 10-12 feet away from the suspect.
“He spun around and fired three shots from a semiautomatic handgun,” Smith said.
Smith dropped the Taser and crouched behind the car, pulling his pistol. As he prepared to return fire, he realized the man was gone.
Salisbury and Spencer officers and deputies with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department assisted in a search for the man. They used a canine unit in an attempt to track the suspect but were unsuccessful.
Police recovered three shell casings from the scene but would not disclose the caliber.
Around 4 a.m., when Smith returned to the office to fill out his report, he took off his vest and noticed a hole in a pocket.
“It’s less than a month old. I thought I had torn it,” Smith said. He began checking and found bullet fragments in the pocket and discovered a set of handcuffs he carried were broken.
Without the vest, Smith said, he would have sustained a gunshot wound in the right abdomen.
A police officer in East Spencer for two years, Smith said this is the second time he’s been shot at this year. The earlier incident involved a shot fired while he was patrolling. He wasn’t hit.
This is the first time in nearly three decades of police work he has been hit by a bullet.
He previously worked for 12 years with the Sheriff’s Office. Prior to that, he was a military policeman for 15 years.
Later Sunday, police determined a break-in had occurred in one of the East Boundary apartments. And police cleared the man who was in the parked car.
Police are asking for the public’s help in finding the shooter. Anyone who has information is asked to call 704-637-1660, or they can go to the East Spencer Police Department Web site ó www.eastspencerpd.net ó and click on Crime Stoppers to leave information and remain anonymous.

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