Victim's Family Emotional, Defense Heartbroken As Jury Finds OKC Sergeant Guilty Of Second Degree Murder
OKLAHOMA CITY - After deliberating for more than five hours a jury found an Oklahoma City police officer guilty of murdering an unarmed man.
Just before 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Keith Sweeney was found guilty of second-degree murder.
Prior to the verdict both families were asked to maintain their composure. While Sweeney remained stoic as the verdict was ready, Dustin Pigeon’s family could be heard weeping.
Overcome with emotion, Pigeon’s family exited the courtroom finding some solace in the jury’s decision.
“No one is happy here. Pigeon doesn’t come back, Dustin Sweeney goes to prison, but the right thing happened,” said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
And while the family is satisfied with the verdict, the defense was left heartbroken.
“Tough, tough loss for Sgt Sweeney, a man who dedicated 10 years of his life to the Oklahoma City Police Department and U.S. Navy. It’s tough,” said Defense Attorney Gary James.
The night of the shooting, Pigeon called 911, telling dispatchers he wanted to kill himself.
Officers were dispatched. Two of them later testified they observed Pigeon holding a bottle of lighter fluid in one hand, and a lighter in the other.
Sgt. Sweeney was the last to arrive.
Prosecutors argued in just 12 seconds, Sweeney failed to accurately assess the situation. They said instead of attempting to de-escalate it, he opened fire, shooting Pigeon five times.
It wasn’t until Pigeon lay dying, that Sweeney realized what he believed to be a knife was in fact a lighter.
“Over 99% of the police officers in this community and in the state and in this country, work incredibly hard and do a great job, we’re so proud of them, but there’s a very small percentage that ultimately find themselves in front of a jury,” said Prater.
“Actions like these make police officers second guess what they do,” said James.
Prosecutors said Sweeney shot Pigeon after another officer fired a bean bag. Two officers testified they didn’t believe Pigeon posed a threat.
Jurors recommended Sweeney serve 10 years in prison. Moments later, the former officer was placed in handcuffs.
Following the jury’s verdict, the president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order Of Police released the following statement:
“Cases like these are extremely difficult for juries, police officers and, of course, Dustin Pigeon’s family. We grieve for and with everyone affected by this case, including Sgt. Sweeney’s family and friends,” FOP President John George said. “Police officers routinely face split-second, life-altering decisions with incomplete information. 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,” George said. “Our community must increase funding to train officers and provide mental health services for people in need.”
“When I filed this case, I said the citizens of this community, 12 of them, will make a decision and speak to the community as if this is OK or not, and they spoke loudly and were very clear,” said Prater.
Sweeney will have to serve 85% of his sentence before being eligible for parole.