OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A jury on Monday found an Oklahoma City police officer guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a suicidal man who was threatening to set himself on fire.
The jury deliberated about 5½ hours before finding Sgt. Keith Sweeney guilty in the Nov. 15, 2017, death of 29-year-old Dustin Pigeon and recommending a 10-year prison sentence. Second-degree murder is punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
Sweeney was among officers responding to reports of a suicidal person and found Pigeon doused in lighter fluid and threatening to set himself on fire in a courtyard.
Prosecutors say Sweeney shot Pigeon after another officer fired a bean bag. An affidavit says Pigeon was unarmed and did not pose a threat when he was shot, and two fellow officers also testified that Pigeon posed no threat.
Defense attorney Gary James has said Sweeney didn’t know Pigeon was unarmed because the other officers didn’t notify him by radio and that Sweeney made the proper decision based on the information he was given.
But prosecutors argued that Sweeney didn’t follow protocol when he shot Pigeon three times, including once in the heart.
District Attorney David Prater said Sweeney “violated just about every policy he could have regarding how you deal with the mentally ill and how you deal with a person when you’re trying to de-escalate the situation.”
After the verdict, the president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police expressed grief for all concerned, including Pigeon’s family and Sweeney’s as well.
“Police officers routinely face split-second, life-altering decisions with incomplete information,” said John George in a statement. “We know Sgt. Sweeney did not go to work that night expecting to be placed in this position. Our officers daily do their absolute best to protect the community and their fellow officers. More and more, police officers are called to respond to people suffering mental health crises. Our community must increase funding to train officers and provide mental health services for people in need.”
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