WASECA, Minn. – Penny Vought took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh as she stepped to the lectern.
“This is the worst nightmare a law enforcement agency can face,” the Waseca police chief said at a news conference Tuesday morning in the city’s public safety building. “And we’re living it right now.”
The night before, one of Vought’s officers had been shot in the head in a gun battle with a wanted felon after police responded to a call of a backyard prowler. Arik Matson, 32, a “much beloved” veteran of five years on the Waseca force, was gravely injured and was in critical condition Tuesday night at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, where he was airlifted for treatment.
The gunfire occurred shortly after 8 p.m. as four officers responded to a report of a suspicious person with a flashlight in the backyard of a home. The suspect, Tyler R. Janovsky, 37, of Waseca, was soon found in a neighboring block, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
“At one point during the encounter with him, officer Matson was shot; the officers then shot Mr. Janovsky,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. Janovsky was shot twice. He was taken by ambulance to North Memorial and is expected to survive.
As news of the shooting spread Tuesday across this city of 9,500 people about 75 miles south of the Twin Cities, residents expressed shock and sadness. Deb Nygaard, a waitress at the Pheasant Café downtown, said Matson stopped in often to dine with his family.
“His wife and his two young kids would come in and wait for the daddy to come in for his lunch hour,” Nygaard said. “Such a nice family.”
By Tuesday evening, a GoFundMe page set up to assist the family had raised more than $70,000 toward a $250,000 goal.
Matson became a licensed police officer in Minnesota in 2010, public records show. He joined the Waseca police force in November 2013 part time and was promoted to full time in early 2015, according to a city manager’s report at the time.
In early 2010, Arik and his father, Tim Matson, both worked the night shift with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, according to an Albert Lea Tribune profile of the two. The elder Matson, now retired, also was a longtime Albert Lea police officer.
Arik Matson graduated from Albert Lea High School in 2006, was in the police explorer’s program and interned with the Albert Lea Police Department, according to the article. He then earned his law enforcement degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and worked security for the Minnesota Vikings when their preseason camp was in Mankato.
He and Megan Joyce were married in 2014 and have two daughters. The family lives in the small town of Freeborn, about 25 miles south of Waseca, where Matson serves on the City Council and as a volunteer firefighter.
“I tell you, you just can’t say enough good about Arik,” said Steve Seipp, the Freeborn fire chief. “He cares about his family, he cares about people. He always has a smile on his face. If you’re having one of those bad days, and you run into Arik, after talking with him, everything seems better.”
Janovsky, meanwhile, has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for burglary, drug crimes, terroristic threats and accessory to murder. At the time of Monday’s shooting, there was an arrest warrant out for him on charges involving methamphetamine production, Evans said.
It’s not clear why Janovsky was in the backyard. Investigators had yet to interview witnesses to the shooting as of late Tuesday morning, Evans said. Waseca police officers don’t wear body cameras and it hasn’t been determined whether squad car cameras captured the incident, he added.
Once the investigation is complete, Evans said, the findings will be forwarded to the Waseca County Attorney’s Office for review of the officers’ actions. Vought said Matson is assigned to the patrol unit and south central drug investigative unit SWAT team, and also serves as a “much beloved” DARE officer in the city’s schools. But, she added, as the community offers prayers for “our friend, our colleague, our brother,” the work of the department goes on.
“We have to remain strong and diligent; we still have a job to do,” she said. “We’re still going to respond to calls in the city of Waseca and be responsive, but help one another, too.”
Monday’s incident occurred three weeks after police raided Janovsky’s nearby home. They came away with several grams of methamphetamine, nearly 900 pills of pseudoephedrine, marijuana, 30 grams of psilocybin “psychedelic” mushrooms, a handgun, various drug paraphernalia and instructions for making meth.
A younger brother’s warning of police arrival allowed Janovsky to escape out a basement door, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Janovsky was charged in absentia on Dec. 27 with numerous felony counts involving the production and sale of meth and was being sought as a fugitive at the time of Monday night’s shooting.
A woman who answered the door at Janovsky’s home Tuesday declined to comment and shut the door.
Janovsky’s criminal history in Minnesota also includes a conviction as an accessory to murder in the 2001 strangulation of a 21-year-old man in Truman, Minn., about 65 miles from Waseca. The victim was robbed of $200 and a small amount of marijuana. Janovsky admitted driving Morgan Schulz to the victim’s home and waiting outside while Schulz killed Rickey Buker. Janovsky was given a 3 ¼-year term.
Blue lights in support
U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, whose district includes Waseca, wrote on Facebook that he was in touch overnight with Matson’s father.
“The work of our police officers can be exceptionally difficult and unpredictable,” Hagedorn wrote. “Dealing with illicit illegal drug use and trafficking, people suffering from mental illness, and felony crimes perpetrated by evil people far too often place the lives of those who protect and serve at risk.”
Waseca police, the State Patrol and the BCA were among the agencies responding to the scene Monday.
As Evans and Vought addressed the media Tuesday, yellow police tape still cordoned off the tree-lined block where the shooting took place.
Meanwhile, residents in the city of Freeborn, a town of about 300 people, were encouraged to turn on blue lights Tuesday night to show support for Matson and law enforcement.
“It does make a big difference,” said Seipp, the fire chief. “And that’s what we’re going to do until he’s back with us and back to 100 percent again.”