Okla. cop charged with second-degree murder in fatal OIS, video released

District Attorney David Prater said Sgt. Keith Patrick Sweeney "crossed the line" when he fatally shot Dustin Pigeon, who was suicidal

By Kyle Schwab
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City police officer "crossed the line" when he shot an unarmed suicidal man last month, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Tuesday.

Sgt. Keith Patrick Sweeney, 32, is charged with second-degree murder. Prater filed the charge himself Tuesday morning, marking the first time the district attorney has charged an Oklahoma City police officer in an on-duty shooting.

“This is one of those situations ... where we've alleged that an officer crossed the line and, in fact, broke the law,” Prater told news reporters during a news conference.

Sweeney faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors allege the shooting was unreasonable and unjustified. Dramatic bodycam video of the shooting was released during the news conference.

Sweeney fatally shot Dustin Pigeon, 29, early Nov. 15 after the victim called 911 threatening suicide, police reported. Officers responded to the courtyard of a housing complex in southwest Oklahoma City and found Pigeon holding a bottle of lighter fluid and a lighter, threatening to set himself on fire, police reported.

“As the officers moved closer to Mr. Pigeon, they noticed sparks coming from his right hand,” Prater said during the news conference.

Pigeon had poured the lighter fluid on himself and was trying to ignite the lighter, police reported.

The first two officers to respond were wearing the body cameras. Officer Erik Howell and Officer Troy Nitzky approached Pigeon and attempted to deescalate the situation, asking him to put down the lighter fluid. Nitzky also grabbed a less lethal bean bag shotgun before approaching Pigeon.

After a few seconds, a third officer, Sweeney, approached Pigeon with his gun drawn yelling, "Drop it!" The video shows the flashlight attached to Sweeney's handgun shining on Pigeon.

Sweeney then shouts, "I will f------ shoot you! Get on the ground!"

At this point, Pigeon lowers his hands to waist level and Nitzky fires one round from his bean bag shotgun, striking Pigeon in the left hip.

“Just after the bean bag impact, … Sgt. Sweeny shot Pigeon five times with his 9 mm handgun,” Prater said.

As Pigeon fell to the ground, he said, "Oh, s---. Oh, s---."

Sweeney then asked, "Is that a knife in his hand?" One officer responds, "It's lighter fluid."

Sweeney then tells Nitzky, "I didn't know you had a bean bag."

Sweeney wasn't wearing a bodycam, Prater said.

After the shooting, police said Pigeon was a danger to the officers and others as he attempted to ignite the lighter fluid. An investigation later revealed Pigeon was unarmed and "not a threat to the officers when he was shot by Sgt. Sweeney," a police investigator wrote in a court affidavit.

"After presenting the investigation to the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office, it was determined the use of deadly force, by Sgt. Keith Sweeney, against Dustin Pigeon was not justified," according to the affidavit.

"The 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," prosecutors allege in the charge.

Prater said Sweeney should not have shouted orders at Pigeon because there were already two officers engaging him.

“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,” Prater said.

Sweeney said he fired his weapon because Pigeon "had a knife in his hand and I felt like my life was in danger," according to Prater. There was no knife found at the scene, the district attorney said.

Sweeney also said he didn't hear the bean bag shotgun go off before he fired, according to Prater.

Sweeney, a nine-year veteran, has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, police reported. He was jailed Tuesday morning with his bail amount to be set by a judge, records show.

The Fraternal Order of Police is expected to hire a defense attorney on Sweeney's behalf, Prater said. Oklahoma City FOP president John George released a statement Tuesday.

"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," George said.

Family members of Pigeon learned of the criminal allegations Tuesday. The victim's mother, Aronda Pigeon, said she was shocked by the new development.

“I've been told the officer was at fault for shooting my son five times,” the mother told The Oklahoman Tuesday by phone. "I want justice for my son."

Aronda Pigeon, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said she thinks the justice system is working so she can find closure.

The victim's sister previously said he suffered from mental health disorders and has been suicidal in the past.

Sweeney also is charged "in the alternative" with first-degree manslaughter, which has a minimum punishment of four years in prison. At trial, a jury could decide to convict Sweeney on either the murder offense or the manslaughter offense.

©2017 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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