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Oklahoma City Police Officer Charged in Shooting of Unarmed Man

Ryan Coventon - Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office has filed a second degree murder charge against an Oklahoma City police officer after finding that his shooting of a suicidal man was not justified.

The incident occurred on November 15, as Dustin Pigeon, a 29-year-old man, called 9-1-1 threatening to kill himself. Two Oklahoma City police officers, Officer Erik Howell and Officer Troy Nitzky, responded to the scene. Both officers were wearing body cameras, and Officer Nitzky had armed himself with a beanbag shotgun.

The officers determined that Pigeon had doused himself in lighter fluid and was attempting to set himself on fire. The two police officers attempted to de-escalate the situation, asking Pigeon to put down the lighter. 

Meanwhile, a third officer, Sgt. Keith Patrick Sweeney, 32, arrived on the scene. As Officers Howell and Nitzky attempted to negotiate with the suicidal man, Sgt. Sweeney reportedly began barking orders at Pigeon, aiming his service weapon at the man and shouting, "Drop it!" The body camera video captures Sweeney shouting, "I will f------ shoot you! Get on the ground!"

After this command, Pigeon reportedly lowered his hands, at which point Officer Nitzky fired a beanbag at him, striking him in the hip. 

Just after the impact of the beanbag, Sweeney fired his 9mm handgun five times, killing Dustin Pigeon. After firing, Sweeney cursed and said to Nitzky, "I didn't know you had a beanbag."

Sweeney said he fired upon Pigeon because he believed the man had a knife, and he felt his life was in danger. However, an investigation determined that Pigeon was not armed and was not a threat to officers when Sweeney shot him.

After the investigation concluded that the shooting of Dustin Pigeon was not justified, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater filed a second degree murder charge, or an alternative charge of first degree manslaughter, against Sgt. Sweeney. In charging documents, prosecutors allege that "[t]he act of shooting Dustin Pigeon was unreasonable, unjustified and perpetrated in an imminently dangerous manner, evincing a depraved mind and demonstrating a disregard for human life."

It is the first time District Attorney David Prater has charged an Oklahoma City police officer in an on-duty killing. In announcing the charge, Prater acknowledged the appropriate actions of the other two responding officers:

“I wanted to let the public know that even though we did charge an officer in this incident, we had two officers — Officer Howell and Officer Nitzky — who did everything textbook in trying to bring this to a peaceful end by using less-than-lethal force.”

The Fraternal Order of Police is expected to hire a defense attorney on Sgt. Sweeney's behalf. According to an FOP statement regarding the charges, "Police officers are routinely placed in dangerous situations where they must quickly make life-or-death decisions. We caution citizens against jumping to conclusions until the facts are fully presented."

Second degree murder is punishable by 10 years to life in prison. First degree manslaughter is punishable by a minimum of four years.

 

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