Judge orders murder case against officer to trial

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- A judge has ordered there is enough probable cause to move a case against an Oklahoma City police officer forward to trial.

Sergeant Keith Sweeney was charged with second degree murder in December for the fatal shooting of an unarmed suicidal man identified as Dustin Pigeon. Sweeney and two other officers responded to Pigeon's house at 1416 SW 20th Street after Pigeon called 911 saying he was going to kill himself.

"99 percent plus of the officers here out there on the street everyday do the right thing every single time. This is one of those situations where we allege where that did not occur and there was a violation of law," Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. "We’re going to do what we believe is right and if that includes prosecuting a fellow police officer, we’re going to do that."

Sweeney pleaded not guilty to the count on Friday.

One of the officers, Erik Howell, testified in court Friday recalling Pigeon had a bottle of lighter fluid and lighter in his hands. Officer Howell said he appeared distressed and made a motion to dump the lighter fluid on himself, trying to set himself on fire. Howell said he did not feel danger towards himself, adding the other officer Troy Nitzky had a bean-bag shotgun as a less lethal option.

Howell testified neither he or Nitzky drew their pistols because there was "no indication" Pigeon was going to harm him.

Body cam video played in court showed Sergeant Sweeney approaching Pigeon after with his gun drawn yelling, "Drop it!" and later shouting "I will f-ing shoot you! Get on the ground!" before shots were fired.

Some of Pigeon's family members were in court during the preliminary hearing Friday, visibly upset as the video played. According to Prater, it was the first time some of them had seen it.

"They’re the ones that have ultimately lost the most in this situation," he told reporters afterwards. "It’s tragic for everyone, but I mean when you talk about the death of a family member you can’t compare how uncomfortable it might be for other officers to testify against a fellow officer."

When asked by Prater, Howell told the court he "personally didn't feel" Pigeon should have died in the incident.

Sweeney is being represented by attorney Gary James, who said he disagreed with the court's decision but that he respected it.

"How many times have we had officer involved shootings in the Oklahoma City police department that are not charged and I don’t think they should be charged, is what I’m saying," James said after the hearing. "Why is this case being looked at differently than any other case?"

During cross examination, he pointed out Howell's memory was "clouded" on certain facts such as which hands Pigeon was holding the lighter and lighter fluid.

"It goes into the things when I question about stress, all of the things that happen in an officer involved shooting, the high stress incidents. It affects memory, auditory, visual. All of those things get affected," he said. "I just wanted to show all of the inconsistencies not because the officer is lying, but because the officer sees it differently than the other people saw it."

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for September 19.

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