Years before Michael D. Oswald allegedly fired on sheriff's deputies through the door of his West Ashley apartment, court records show that he had a history of fights and, in at least one case, a distrust of law enforcement. Court records also show that property owners had attempted to evict him at least three times.
On Monday night, according to the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, Oswald opened fire on three sheriff's deputies who had been called to the scene in reference to disorderly conduct, killing one deputy, injuring another, and prompting at least one deputy to return fire. Oswald himself was found dead in the apartment after law enforcement agents from across the tri-county area swarmed to the apartments and evacuated part of the building.
As the Post & Courier has reported, Oswald's rap sheet includes a 2003 conviction for DUI and hit-and-run property damage, a 2007 simple assault charge that was later dropped, and a New Year's Day 2013 arrest for another hit and run. In addition to those criminal charges, a search of Charleston County Magistrate Court records show that he sued some Mt. Pleasant residents in 2009 — and a deposition he gave in the case reveals a lengthy history of arrests and fights. (Click here to read parts of the deposition and a Mt. Pleasant Police Department report.)
A history of violence
In 2007, according to a Mt. Pleasant Police Department incident report, Oswald was renting a house at 2164 Gulf Dr. in Mt. Pleasant. The report states that Oswald drove to his landlord James K. "Kenny" Lynn's house down the street at 2142 Gulf Dr. on Sept. 29, 2007, after Lynn and his girlfriend had been in a car accident. Oswald told police he was there to check on their recovery, but Lynn told a different story. According to witnesses on the scene, Oswald showed up to the house with music blaring from his vehicle, and when the residents asked him to turn down the volume, he cranked it up. They say that when Kenny Lynn's son James Lynn II reached into the car to adjust the volume knob, Oswald punched him in the face. They asked Oswald to leave, and he did, but he returned a short time later.
Kenny and his girlfriend at the time said that when Oswald came back, he banged on the door and started "raising hell," then he pushed James' girlfriend as he came into the house. This allegedly prompted James to punch Oswald three to four times in the face, breaking his jaw in two places, according to an E.R. doctor.
Oswald pressed an assault charge against James Lynn. But in 2009 after the charge was dropped, Oswald sued James, Kenny, and Kenny's girlfriend, alleging that the homeowners had allowed assault, underage drinking, and illegal drug use to take place on their property.
As the lawsuit worked its way through the court system, the defendants' attorney had Oswald give a deposition to a legal assistant that was ultimately used to dismiss the case in 2011. In that deposition, Oswald revealed a history of violent fights and claimed that he had been arrested "probably 50" times, although the part of the deposition where he recounted those arrests was not included in court records. And at multiple points in the deposition, Oswald criticized Mt. Pleasant Police Department's handling of the September 2007 case, as in the following exchange with the legal assistant:
Q. Let's talk about the police.
Q. You think the police did a good job?
A. Absolutely not.
Q. Tell me.
A. My main complaint with the police is they didn't criminally prosecute this person based on their lousy investigation. Basically what they told me is, there were more of them than there was of you and they say it happened a way different than the way you said it happened, therefore, since they have more witnesses, we're going to drop the charges.
Oswald later stated, "You know, Mt. Pleasant Police, they didn't do me any favors. They didn't do nothing. They're a bunch of lazy, no-nothing [sic] cops."
Oswald's distrust extended beyond law enforcement. He said he arrived at a hospital after the fight with part of his jawbone sticking out through his gumline, and he was unhappy with the care he received from doctors and nurses. Responding to accusations that he had been "combative" and "uncooperative" at the hospital, Oswald said, "It just seemed like, because I was in there with my face beat up, like they just assumed that I was some kind of piece of crap that went looking for fights and got one and got what I deserved, you know, and they weren't kind to me. They were almost antagonistic to me."
And yet, by Oswald's own admission, he was a scrapper. "I've been in fights all my life," Oswald said, adding that he had been in three fights in the last five years, including two at the Mt. Pleasant Irish pub Fiddler's Green. "There's always some meathead hillbilly know-it-all who doesn't like a guy with a smart mouth, especially if he ain't from around here," Oswald said. "So I'm always being tested. I don't like to fight, but when guys trap me in a parking lot — you know, I retaliated in that situation because it was a man."
Oswald gave a gruesome account of one fight in particular when he says a 300-pound man attacked him near a picnic table:
"So I stuck my fingers in his eyes and I pulled down his eyelids until they started to bleed. He started to get up off of me and I hung on to his face, so as he was pulling up off me, he was pulling me up, I got my left hand loose and I started bashing him in the head. I got my legs curled up underneath me and I kicked him off of me. So that was another one I won over there at the Irish pub that was next to my storage dump."
Magistrate Court records also reveal that on three separate occasions, landlords sought to evict Oswald. In June 2008, Real Estate Consultants of 520 Folly Road filed a writ of ejectment against Oswald. Twice in 2013, first in January and then in March, The Gardens at Ashley River sought a Rule to Vacate against Oswald. Online court records show that all three court cases were disposed, but it remains unclear whether Oswald was evicted. Management at The Gardens at Ashley River have not responded to a request for information, and Real Estate Consultants could not be reached by phone.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has taken over the investigation of the Monday night shooting, and Sheriff's Office officials have been tight-lipped about many of certain details while the investigation is ongoing. At a press conference Tuesday, Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas and Coroner Rae Wooten would not say, for example, whether they suspected Oswald died of shots fired by deputies or of a self-inflicted wound. They did not say where Joseph J. Matuskovic had been shot before dying later at the hospital. And it remained unclear how long Oswald remained in the apartment before a SWAT team entered and found him dead of a gunshot wound. Lucas also refused to speculate on Oswald's motives.
"The case was full of unknowns for those SWAT team members and police officers who responded," Lucas said. "The only thing we could be sure of was there was someone on the other side of the door who had a gun that could shoot through the door at police officers. We had no idea how many or what their motivation was."