Public Safety duo honored for heroic efforts to get man in distress safely off roof

May 01, 2024
Public Safety Officer Aubrey Wilson and Sgt. Charles Davis hold awards they received for saving a man's life.
Officer Aubrey Wilson and Sgt. Charles Davis were surprised to receive awards for the hair-raising rescue they carried out just a few days earlier. Photo by Timothy Brooder

It was close to the end of a shift for Sgt. Charles Davis and Officer Aubrey Wilson, part of the Public Safety team at the Medical University of South Carolina. “We probably had an hour left,” Wilson said. “And then a call goes over the radio. So when it’s a serious call, a loud panic alarm goes off on your radio.”

They answered that call and learned a man was on the roof of a tall building, standing right at the edge. “We were the first ones there,” Wilson said.

While Davis helped organize the department’s plan, Wilson was busy, too. “Officer Wilson had a rapport with the individual,” Davis said.

Both he and Wilson have been through crisis intervention training to help people struggling with mental health problems. They needed that knowledge on this occasion. The man was not only on a roof, several stories up. He was also making dangerous moves.

“He’s on the roof, and there’s a tree almost right next to it. But not close enough where you can reach out and grab it. You would like literally have to jump. So he was looking like he was trying to jump. So I was telling him, ‘Don’t do it because if you miss that tree branch and you fall, you can land on your head, and you can die,’” Wilson said. 

Two uniformed officers walk on a sidewalk. 
Sgt. Davis and Officer Wilson walk the MUSC campus. Photo by Sarah Pack

“So I was pretty much telling him at this point, ‘We’re going to come up. Whatever you need, we can try to help you out. Just tell us what you need.’”

But coming up was no easy task. They needed help from the Charleston Fire Department, which had ladders tall enough to reach the roof. Even then, the officers, who are not normally ladder climbers, had their concerns.

“At first I wasn’t sure that we were actually going to be able to get on top of the roof because the incline was so steep,” Davis said. “When I told that to one of the firemen, he kind of shimmied up next to me, and he was looking over the side saying, ‘I think you can get on there.’”

Wilson was nervous. “It’s scary. I tried not to look down. It’s second nature for the fire department. But not for us. I’m not a fan of heights.”

But the Public Safety duo put that aside and made the precarious climb to the roof. Then, Wilson continued to talk with the man. “So basically, a lot of people in this position, they feel that nobody’s listening to them. Nobody cares. Nobody understands. So, at first, I’m thinking, ‘I just want to get him talking. I just want him to vent,’” he said.

“‘So just, you know, tell me everything that’s on your mind, everything that’s bothering you.’ And then from there I try to work to see, OK, what could I say? How can I reassure this person? How can I gain trust? Because in his particular case, he didn’t trust law enforcement ... something that happened in the past.”

Four uniformed Public Safety officers stand in a row. Two men in the middle are holding framed awards for saving another man's life. 
Chief Patrick Kelly, Officer Aubrey Wilson, Sgt. Charles Davis and Maj. Stephen Espinoza. Photo by Timothy Brooder

Wilson managed to get the man to open up about his concerns, talking through how to start to resolve them with the help of psychiatrists on the ground. After an hour-long discussion, he eventually agreed to go down the ladder with them. The Public Safety team breathed a huge sigh of relief. This call had a safe ending for everyone.

A few days later, Wilson and Davis got another surprise – a good one. The department honored them for their bravery with Life Saving Awards and medals. Patrol Commander Maj. Stephen Espinoza, the No. 2 official in the department, said they deserved it. 

“They put themselves at the right place at the time. Put themselves at pretty substantial physical risk of falling off that roof to bring somebody in who was in crisis. And they were able to successfully let him negotiate his own surrender without using force and without incident. It was really well done.”

Davis and Wilson were grateful that their mission succeeded and grateful for the recognition. “I would never have thought I’d have gotten one of those,” Wilson said of the award.

“We don’t do it for that, you know,” Davis said. “But it was very nice. You know, it was a team effort.”

A team effort that may represent more than what happened up on that roof, Espinoza said. “Good way to promote a positive police message. The public gets bombarded with negative portrayals. It’s nice to remember that there are people who will put themselves at risk to help others.”

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