Oklahoma City, OK — Another homicide of an unarmed mentally-ill civilian took place again last year at the hands of law enforcement. And while most police officers enjoy special protections under the law, called “qualified immunity from prosecution,” this time, an Oklahoma City police officer was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 years.
In November, a jury convicted former officer Keith Sweeney of second-degree murder and recommended he spend 10 years in prison for it. This month, a judge agreed and handed down the ten years.
Oklahoma County District Judge Natalie Mai handed down the sentence last week, telling Sweeney he shouldn’t be treated differently because he is a police officer and a Navy veteran, according to the Oklahoman.
“You should and will be held to a higher standard,” she said.
This type of talk is rare among judges and the legal system which usually holds police officers to a much lower standard. It is very much welcomed. Nevertheless, Sweeney still contends that his life was in danger that fateful night in which he murdered an unarmed man who posed no threat and had his hands up.
“I truly believe with every fiber of my being in that moment that Mr. Pigeon had a knife,” Keith Sweeney told Dustin Pigeon’s family before a judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Even if he did have a knife, Pigeon was not advancing toward the cop and was complying with many of the orders given to him.
As TFTP previously reported, the incident unfolded about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 15, 2017, after the victim called 911 threatening suicide.
Police were called to the 1400 Block of SW 20, to assist with Pigeon. Upon arrival, OKC officers encountered Pigeon in his yard. The disturbed young man had doused himself with lighter fluid, yet was compliant with some of the commands the officers were giving him, just not the one to put the lighter fluid down.
Body camera video showed that officers were attempting to de-escalate the situation before Sweeney showed up and devolved it into a bloody nightmare.
As Sweeney approached Pigeon with his gun drawn, he began yelling, “Drop it!” As he continues to yell at the unarmed man, Sweeney threatens to kill him, saying “I will (expletive) shoot you! Get on the ground!”
When one officer fires a beanbag round, Sweeney followed suit but with real 9mm bullets. He dumped 5 rounds in the direction of Pigeon, hitting him 3 times, including once in the heart.
Pigeon was killed instantly.
According to the Ohlahoman, District Attorney David Prater told the judge Sweeney believed he was a “warrior and not a shepherd” and shouldn’t been working as a police officer because of his beliefs. The prosecutor cited several social media posts that referred to the defendant’s “us against them” mentality.
“There is a segment of police officers out there on the street who think and believe that all they are is warriors,” the prosecutor said. “And for whatever reason they lose empathy for those that they should be serving.”
Surprisingly enough, at the time, the subsequent investigation into the shooting concluded Pigeon was no threat to anyone other than himself and the shooting was unjustified. Prater then filed murder charges against the officer who was held without bail in the county jail. Prater addressed the case against Sweeney.
Pigeon would not drop the lighter…But was substantially compliant with the officers’ orders. At one point, Mr. Pigeon dropped his hands to waist level…Sweeney should not have been yelling orders…They’re talking to him, trying to get him to drop it.
This conviction and subsequent sentence is a win for police accountability. Hopefully this sentence will serve as a deterrent for other cops who would be quick murder unarmed mentally ill people instead of showing one ounce of courage.
Arguably, a previous sentence may have deterred Sweeney. As we reported at the time, it was not the first time Sweeney was involved in an officer-involved shooting of a man with disabilities. According to the DA, before Pigeon, Sweeney was involved in the shooting of a deaf man, although the details of this shooting are unclear.
Trigger-happy police officers, such as Sweeney appears to be, need to understand they can no longer depend on the statement, “I feared for my life,” as reasonable cause to take another human’s life, especially those with special needs, mental illness included. No longer will district attorneys give police officers a free pass when it comes to officer-involved shootings. We applaud the bravery of DA Prater and hope other district attorneys will follow his lead and get these killer cops off the streets.