OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma City police officer was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a suicidal man who had doused himself in lighter fluid and was trying to set himself on fire.
District Attorney David Prater filed the charge against Sgt. Keith Sweeney and listed an alternative charge of first-degree manslaughter in the Nov. 15 killing of 29-year-old Dustin Pigeon. An affidavit by a police investigator concluded that Pigeon was unarmed and didn’t pose a threat to responding officers when Sweeney shot him.
Court documents didn’t list an attorney for Sweeney, who was taken into custody late Tuesday morning.
The investigation into the shooting was conducted the same way as any other investigation, said police Capt. Bo Mathews.
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“We made sure we talked to all witnesses, to the officer and got his statement,” Mathews said. “It’s no different from any other crime we work … this just happened to involve a police officer.”
Police said Sweeney and another officer responded to a call about a suicidal person and found Pigeon trying to ignite himself with lighter fluid and a lighter in a courtyard surrounded by homes. Police said the other officer shot Pigeon with a bean bag, to no effect, before Sweeney fatally shot him.
Pigeon’s parents didn’t immediately reply to calls and emails seeking comment. Pidgeon’s mother, Aronda Pigeon, told The Oklahoman that she was “shocked” when she found out the officer would be charged with second-degree murder.
“The officer is guilty and I want justice for my son,” she told the newspaper.
Pigeon’s shooting was among several Oklahoma cases this year where law officers confronted mentally distressed or suicidal subjects that resulted in fatal outcomes.
Earlier in November near Lindsay, about 45 miles south of Oklahoma City, a man was burned beyond recognition when he re-entered a gasoline soaked van after being shot by police with a stun gun. Police said Dana Dean Carrothers, 52, had been reported missing and was suicidal.
In June, three Tulsa law enforcement officers fatally shot a 29-year-old knife-wielding man, Joshua Barre, while trying to pick him up for a mental health issue.
Handling encounters between officers and the mentally distressed has quickly become a top priority among many law enforcement agencies because of the reality that “people who are mentally ill get killed by officers and officers get killed by the mentally ill,” said Johnny Nhan, associate professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University.
Nhan said some agencies, like the Fort Worth police department, are creating special task forces of specially trained officers, detectives and other professionals, such as counselors, who are embedded in those teams.
“It shows you the level of concern (departments have),” he said.
This story has been corrected to show the shooting took place Nov. 15, not Nov. 17.
Juozapavicius reported from Tulsa.