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PIKEVILLE, KENTUCKY -- The gun that John Michael Keen tried to grab when he was shot and killed by police officers last week wasn't real.
KSP spokesperson Elliott Gollihue said that Keen was reaching for an air pistol when police officers shot him Dec. 28. The pistol looked similar to weapons used by police officers, and it resembled the gun that Keen reportedly used in robberies that occurred on the day of his death, Gollihue said.
“The officers didn't have enough time to react,” Gollihue said. “The officers had such a short reaction time that they couldn't tell that it was an air pistol.”
At the time of the chase last week, Keen, 26, of Town Mountain Road, was suspected in crimes against four businesses during a 30-hour period. On Wednesday, he was suspected of robbing the Smoke Shack in Pikeville and on Thursday, he was suspected of attempting to steal a television from Wal-Mart and robbing the Cardinal Country Store in Betsy Layne and the Economy Drug pharmacy in Pikeville.
Authorities realized that the Keen's weapon was plastic when the scene at the intersection of U.S. 119 and U.S. 23 was secured the night of the shooting. Gillohue said the information wasn't reported because “we had so much going on in Pikeville” and officers from other posts were standing in as media contacts for Post 9.
“It's not that the state police is hiding the fact it was an air pistol,” Gollihue said.
The event capped a week of bad luck for the state police. On Dec. 19, officials at Post 9 lost Trooper Jonathan K. Leonard, 28, a three-year KSP veteran who died after turning his cruiser into the path of an other vehicle. Leonard, the first KSP officer to die on duty within the past 18 years, was not wearing a seat belt. On Christmas Day, KSP Det. Stewart “Joey” Howard, 45, died in his home of a heart attack. His funeral was conducted on Dec. 29, the day after Keen was shot. That day, Trooper Billy Joe Caudill was seriously injured when he was struck by a car while assisting with an accident on U.S. 23.
KSP investigators are working up to 14 hours per day to outline the series of events that led to Keen's death, Gollihue said.
Keen was facing two counts of assault, criminal possession of a forged instrument, robbery, burglary, and two counts of theft in several pending Pike County cases when he was placed under a monitored conditional release program on Dec. 13. He was also facing drug possession and other charges in Marshall County.
Keen's long criminal history record in Pike County shows that he received several probated sentences, diversions and dismissals for crimes he has been accused of since 2001.
Trooper Chris Phillips and Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement Officer Keith Justice will remain on administrative duty until the investigation into Keen's death is complete. KVE spokesperson Jeff Jacobs referred all questions to the KSP.
Keen's parents, John and Sharon Keen, did not return calls.