Sheriff: Highlands deputy's ballistic vest stops bullet shot by suspect; deputies returned fire, killing him

Booking image for Matthew Nocerino

Officials in Highlands County  say deputies were forced to return fire, killing a suspect after a fired a gun at a deputy, striking the law enforcement officer's ballistic vest. 

According to the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, deputies arrived at a home on Markland Lane around 9:17 p.m. in Sebring to speak to a woman named, Kelly Townsend. They said they were interviewing her inside the home in regards to an active warrant for her arrest.

During the interview, deputies said they learned a man named 30-year-old Matthew Nocerino was also at the home. There were felony warrants for his arrest for burglary and grand theft charges. Deputies said he was seen walking through the home.

Sheriff Paul Blackman said the deputies ordered Nocerino to stop, but then he ran away from them through the home, and deputies chased after him. 

PREVIOUS: Sheriff: Highlands County man fatally shot by deputies after pointing weapon at them

One deputy fired a Taser, striking Nocerino in the area of his left hip and waist.

However, they said he continued to run, and eventually headed into a bedroom. Deputies said once he was inside the room, Nocerino fired a handgun, which struck a deputy in his ballistic vest.

Around 9:36 p.m., deputies notified dispatchers that shots were fired. The sheriff said at least one deputy returned fire, striking Matthew several times. 

First responders arrived at the home by 9:44 p.m., the sheriff's office reports, but Nocerino was pronounced dead. 

READ: More than two dozen registered sex offenders arrested for improper online activity in Highlands County

The deputy who was struck was taken to a nearby hospital. He had minor injuries and was released. The deputies involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, which is protocol. 

Officials said Nocerino spent time in prison for "violent charges. One to include battery on a law enforcement officer."
Meanwhile, Townsend was taken to the county jail and booked on her active warrants, deputies said.

“At this time I would ask you to keep our deputies and the decedent’s family in your prayers,” Sheriff Blackman said. “Again what I have reported is preliminary and based strictly on evidence we currently have access to.  This information could change as the investigation continues.”