Greenville cop’s ‘humanity’ has ripple effect after suicide-by-cop event

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – On Friday, a conference focused on peace and conflict resolution will bring together speakers in the Upstate who have demonstrated the power of compassion and humanity.

Perhaps nowhere was that more evident than a police stand-off with a man who was trying to commit suicide-by-cop in Greenville two years ago.

7News checked in with him and the officer who was able to get him to surrender.

As a member of the Greenville Police SWAT team, Sergeant Jason Semanyk is a trained marksman.

“It would have been a fatal shot more than likely,” Semanyk said, when describing the stand-off.

Even the man in his cross hairs, Matthew Kern, admitted that officers had every reason to shoot him on the night of January 15, 2017.

“It would have been the most justified shooting in the history of this country, but he chose not to,” said Kern.

Kern said he used to be a drug addict and had already attempted to kill himself that night with pills.   

When it did not work, he thought of recent events like the death of Walter Scott in Charleston. Scott was shot in the back by an officer.  

Kern said his goal, when he stole a car from a Greenville gas station and lead police on a chase to a wooded area off of Millennium Road, was suicide by cop.

“In my mind, it was like this is what they do. They kill people,” said Kern.

Police said it was dark and Kern that was waving a weapon. They said tensions were high.

“At one point, I pleaded with him for me to not have to live with knowing that I had to kill someone that I didn’t have to kill,” Semanyk said.

Kern said he was touched by how much effort Semantyk made to keep him alive. 

“What Sgt. Semanyk showed me that day that I’ve carried with me since, is that when you make a choice that you are going to be human no matter what and you are going to show grace no matter what and you are going to show compassion no matter what, then you find value, and then you find meaning and then you find happiness,” Kern said.

Since that night nearly two and half years ago, Kern has been drug free. He even launched his own treatment center in Houston called The Growth Factory.

“I was like please lord, please don’t find out that he’s relapsed or anything, and when I found that out it was really, really, really great,” Semanyk said, with a tear in his eye.

“The fact that he chose, and really every responding office, they chose in that moment to be human and keep treating me with compassion. That’s where I learned the only path to sustained happiness is by carrying that torch,” Kern said.

Semanyk stayed with Kern in the hospital and even vouched for him in the courtroom.

It’s just one of many examples of humanity that will comprise the Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference this Friday in Greenville.  

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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