Police had no reason to believe Matthew Pryor was a violent criminal. He was wanted on a burglary charge and for violating probation when they went to his mother’s North Miami home to arrest him.
But that initial confrontation on Tuesday exploded into a 36-hour odyssey in which police say Pryor fired at police officers 876 miles apart, carjacked a vehicle and threatened passersby with his gun — all while driving from North Miami to Knoxville, Tennessee, likely dressed as a woman to hide his identity, police said.
When Pryor was finally confronted by Knoxville police officer Jimmy Wilson in a room on the third floor of the Best Value Inn just past 8 Wednesday night, police said Pryor fired once at the officer, striking him in the chest. The cop wasn’t seriously injured, his bullet-proof vest likely saving his life.
After a brief standoff, Pryor finally gave up.
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“Sadly, law enforcement encounter these type of situations too often,” said Miami-Dade Deputy Police Director Juan Perez. “More often than not, the incidents do not capture the attention of the public because they are near misses.”
Pryor remained in custody in Knoxville Thursday as two Miami-Dade detectives made their way north to begin extradition proceedings. In Miami-Dade, he is expected to be charged with attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, using a firearm during the commission of a felony, aggravated assault on an officer, and armed carjacking. Knoxville police will charge him separately.
“He’ll probably have to stand trial twice,” Perez said.
Pryor’s capture once again exposed the public to the dangers police face while serving arrest warrants, typically tense encounters that take place out of public view.
Four years ago, Miami-Dade detectives Amanda Haworth and Roger Castillo were gunned down trying to arrest career criminal Johnny Simms. He shot Haworth just inside the front door of a Liberty City apartment, then killed Castillo on a walkway outside the home before Detective Oscar Plascencia shot Simms dead.
On Tuesday, Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco was killed serving a warrant, leaving behind a newborn and her husband.
Still, Miami-Dade police have served 481 arrest warrants successfully this year. Now included in that list, the complicated capture of 30-year-old Matthew Pryor.
The chain of events that led to Pryor being taken into custody began early Tuesday morning. That’s when police visited his mother’s trailer at Northeast 136th Street and 22nd Avenue. As officers neared, Pryor escaped out a rear window. When he jumped a fence, an officer pursued. When Pryor turned and fired at the officer, the cop returned fire. The bullets did not hit their intended targets.
About a block away at Northeast 23rd Court, Pryor was nicked by a car while trying to cross the road, Perez said. When a woman driving a silver 2011 Nissan Rogue stopped to check on what happened, Pryor threw her aside and took off in the vehicle. He wasn’t seen again until after 8 p.m. Wednesday in Knoxville. By then, police had warned the public that Pryor could be trying to hide his his identity by dressing as a woman.
They said they learned of the possibility by visiting social media sites that had Pryor’s imprint. The fugitive’s sister Melissa Pryor said the disguise was a possibility, although she told a television station in Miami that her brother didn’t have the money to buy women’s clothing while on the run.
Pryor’s mom begged her son to give himself up.
“He's mentally sick. He's afraid,” Elaine Pryor told WSVN-Channel 7. “Matthew, come home, please. Or turn yourself in. Don’t hurt yourself ... or anyone else.”
Then Tuesday night, Knoxville police officer Wilson spotted the Nissan with Florida plates outside the Best Value Inn, a three-story hotel in which the room doors open to the outside. Knocking on doors, Wilson finally found Pryor’s room. But instead of giving himself up, Pryor responded with gunfire — a single shot that struck Wilson in the chest.
Wilson’s bullet-proof vest saved him from more serious injury, police said. He was released from the hospital Thursday morning. Knoxville police said officers did not return fire at Pryor. After a brief standoff, Pryor finally slid his gun outside the hotel room door and surrendered.
“The suspect opened the door and fired one round,” Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch told a Knoxville television station.
Video taken of the confrontation between Pryor and Knoxville police by the Knoxville News Sentinel clearly shows police screaming orders at Pryor at the hotel, then the fugitive leaving the hotel room accompanied by several cops.
“Come out with your hands up,” the officers scream repeatedly. Then, “face away,” they demand of Pryor before he gives himself up.
Perez said the manhunt for Pryor stretched from Miami-Dade to Volusia County, and that federal agencies including the U.S. Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were involved in the search.
Pryor’s local criminal history goes back to when he was 13, with charges including burglary, and marijuana and cocaine possession, but nothing to indicate violence. But predicting criminal behavior on past arrests can be precarious, said Miami-Dade police Sgt. John Barrow.
“Sometimes people go through their lives without getting arrested” for crimes they’ve committed, Barrow said. “How do you know someone’s not a violent felon? With a common criminal, you just don’t know.”