Oklahoma City, OK — Another homicide of a mentally-ill civilian has taken place again 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 has been charged with second-degree murder.
Police were called November 15th, to the 1400 Block of SW 20, to assist a suicidal man, 29-year-old Dustin Pigeon. Upon arrival, OKC officers along with officer Sgt. Keith Patrick Sweeney 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. After being told to "put it down," Pigeon said:
Back up, hey back up, I've got my hands up. My hands are up, my hands are up.
Body cameras caught the killing on tape. Pigeon was backing up, facing the officers as they approached. "I will fucking shoot you," someone yells. And shoot they did. The first officer (unnamed) used a less-than-lethal beanbag, in a humane attempt to get Pigeon to drop the lighter fluid. The second volley of bullets came from Sweeney's gun, who remarked after the shooting:
Is that a knife in his hand?
The question seemed to befuddle his colleague, the other officer, who simply said,
It's lighter fluid.
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Pigeon was killed instantly. Sweeney then commented he had no idea the first shot he heard was a bean bag round. The sergeant's justification for shooting Pigeon was not enough to keep his superiors from charging him with second-degree murder.
The subsequent investigation into the shooting concluded Pigeon was no threat to anyone other than himself and the shooting was unjustified. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater then filed murder charges against the officer who is being 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.
It's one small victory for a killer cop to even be indicted, it will be an entirely different story for Oklahomans to convict Sweeney for 2nd Degree Murder. As in the case of Philando Castile, even with damning evidence, few juries have the courage to convict a police officer. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, even though dash camera footage and the other eyewitness at the scene testified he killed Castile in cold blood.
It was not the first time Sweeney was involved in an officer-involved shooting of a man with disabilities. Prater is reportedly reviewing the facts, according to the medical examiner's report, in the case of the shooting of a deaf man, although no details of the case were readily available for the press. For now, Sweeney is saying he "feared for his life" because he believed Pigeon had a knife. Prater apparently does not believe Sweeney's defense but would only say:
It will be a jury's decision and duty to determine exactly the truth and voracity of that statement.
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.