Deputy Chris Mastrianni, once a college wrestler, showed his physical prowess and his gentle side Saturday night and became the latest social media sensation.
The 27-year-old Richland County deputy’s high-speed chase and arrest of Bryan Martin, as the suspect slung his 2-year-old daughter as a “shield” against Mastrianni, was broadcast on the 50th episode of the A&E series of “Live PD.”
“That’s your baby! That’s your baby!” Mastrianni repeatedly yelled as he struggled for two minutes to control the father. The image that wrenched the hearts of viewers was Mastrianni cradling the little girl afterward. She clutched his back and nestled her head on his shoulder as blue lights flickered and sirens wailed in the background.
“The way this sweet baby laid her head on @chrismastrianni...melts my heart. #herocop #LivePD,” wrote LizAnn, who goes by @EannT on Twitter.
Already a fan favorite on the documentary series, Mastrianni’s popularity hit new heights.
“I wanted to jump through the TV and be able to help him out, but it just wasn’t gonna happen,” said Lt. Danny Ray Brown Jr., Mastrianni’s boss, who watched the encounter play out live on his television set.
“You see him sprawling out, trying to get the guy under control,” the lieutenant said. “Him being a wrestler probably contributed to him being able to handle that situation.
“One minute you’re chasing somebody and the next minute you have a little girl in your arms that definitely needed help,” Brown said. “She felt, for sure, Chris was protecting her.
The senior deputy is a criminal justice graduate of Western New England University in Massachusetts, where he was on the wrestling team for four years, according to Mastrianni’s biography on the Sheriff’s Department website.
Mastrianni didn’t know the child was in the silver SUV until Martin crawled out of the overturned vehicle off North Main Street after reaching speeds that reached 95 mph.
It was all portrayed on the weekly series, which follows police agencies around the country to give viewers a glimpse of what officers encounter on a shift.
Mastrianni has been on the TV show since October when the Sheriff’s Department became one of the agencies that participated in the launch of “Live PD.”
Fans on Twitter have dubbed him “Fastrianni,” for his speed in running down suspects. “Don’t even think of trying to run from #fastrianni,” Alyan Marie wrote last month.
Sheriff Leon Lott on Monday commended Mastrianni’s handling of the incident and heaped praise on the deputy.
Mastrianni, a member of the Community Action Team, has been in tough spots before, Lott said.
“I don’t think he’s been in a situation quite like this one, when it involved a 2-year-old child who’s being used as a shield, who’s being tossed around like this little girl was.
“The comments of support, Twitter, Snapchat, text messages, telephone calls, emails – it’s been overwhelming support of the job he did,” Lott said.
Out in the communities that Mastrianni patrols, residents say that’s what they’ve come to expect from “Deputy Chris.”
Clyde Holliday recalled a man who lived alone in their Trenholm Acres neighborhood. The man didn’t have anywhere to sleep. Holliday, a pastor and former social worker, was trying to help.
“I was calling different places to find a bed for this person,” Holliday said. “Deputy Chris called me within the hour and said, ‘Pastor, I’ve got a bed for him.’ He called around, found a place.”
Diane Wiley knows if she calls Mastrianni, he’ll either call her back or come to the front door of her Belvedere home.
“I get mad when they try to change (neighborhood officers), because we get used to people,” said Wiley, president of the neighborhood association. “I’ll be teasing him all the time about how now he’s a movie star.”
At one of the neighborhood’s back-to-school events, Wiley said Mastrianni stopped in for what was supposed to be a short conversation with neighborhood kids about going to school and how to respond to bullying.
“The kids were just following him around,” she said. “These were teenagers – I would think they’d be all into themselves, but they sat there the whole time and listened.”
Arcadia Lakes Mayor Mark Huguley, a retired State Law Enforcement Division agent, recognizes when an officer is fulfilling his duties and when he goes the extra mile.
He recalled Mastrianni and other officers helping an elderly woman who couldn’t care for herself after her husband died.
“That’s not a law enforcement responsibility per se, to try to get food or shelter lined up for an elderly person in that sort of circumstance,” Huguley said.
“We don’t have our own police force, and we feel like Chris is our deputy,” the mayor said. “I guess you feel possessive and proud.
“He’s a good one,” Huguley said. “It’d be a great thing if there were more like him.”
Deputy Chris Mastrianni at a glance
Rank: Senior deputy
Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Western New England University. Graduated in 2012
Marital status: Married
Job assignment: Member of the Community Action Team (CAT) in Region 2, which includes inbound Decker Boulevard to the city from Fontaine Road, Forest Acres, Trenholm Acres, Arcadia Lakes, Belvedere