A New York state police officer is set to retire with his pension after he reportedly called 911 and claimed he engaged in a shootout with a group of Black youths.
Cohoes police officer Sean McKown, 46, made a 911 call on the night of June 6 to report he exchanged gunfire a young Black man near his home in Elizabethtown, New York.
“A group of eight to 10 black males came around his property and words were exchanged after he questioned why they were on his property,” a dispatcher stated in an internal email obtained by the Times Union newspaper, “They told him off. They then returned for round two, more words were exchanged to which at that point gunfire was exchanged between both parties. Sean is uninjured, however, is waiting for State Police response as they are on another call.”
When state troopers arrived, they did not find a crime scene.
Instead, McKown was discovered napping in his home and appeared to be intoxicated, an anonymous source told the Times Union newspaper. Once he was awake, McKown told the officers the gunfight occurred after he confronted a group of Black youths who were holding their phones in their air, as if they were searching for cellphone service. He approached them three times to demand they get away from his property.
McKown claimed a young Black man lifted his shirt to show off a weapon resting in the waistband of his pants. The youth reportedly pulled the gun and fired a shot, prompting McKown to return fire with his service weapon.
He told the troopers he fired four times before he got rid of the gun because he feared it could be used to incriminate him. There was no evidence anyone shot at him, according to an Associated Press report. McKown later called the state police and admitted he made the entire story up.
McKown told them he heard a loud noise and emptied his gun into a tree stump to scare off potential trespassers. He said he made up the story because he did not want to admit he was scared. He told the state police he ditched the gun because he did not want the group to find the gun and use it against him.
The troopers poked a hole in his story when they told him a neighbor’s surveillance camera showed him laying the gun down carefully. After he was called out on his inconsistences, McKown reportedly asked the officers why they were trying to “jam him up.”
The troopers stated McKown also denied being drunk but claimed he did not remember what he said during the 911 call. The state police eventually caught up with the group McKown approached and they accused him of asking invasive questions. The group, consisting of two men and one woman, heard him on the phone describing their appearance but they did not see a gun. Although they felt like he was harassing him, the group did not feel threatened by McKown and declined to press charges.
McKown has not been disciplined for the incident. The state troopers are not speaking publicly about the incident, but they told the AP the investigation into the incident is closed. Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague requested McKown’s case file, but she is also keeping mum.
The handling of the incident is a problem for other community members. McKown will be on sick leave until he retires sometime this month. He has been employed with the force since 2000 and is a nephew of former Cohoes Police Chief William Heslin.
A letter demanding more aggressive accountability was signed by 700 people and delivered to Sprague’s office last week. Nicole Hylton-Patterson, director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, believes the public is being deceived.
“It feels as though someone is trying to sweep this thing under the rug,” she told AP. “If it’s true that he made a false report that put the lives of these youths at risk, he should be charged and prosecuted.”
Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler admitted McKown’s alleged behavior is “unbecoming of a police officer,” but he insisted to the Times Union that retirement is the best option.
“So, if these facts are true, then that would be the desired goal — separation of service. And the most certain way to get there, the easiest way to get there, the least expensive way to get there is the retirement route,” Keeler argued.
The mayor added, “I’ve seen similar cases go both ways, and given the circumstances, taking that risk is not in the best interest of the people of Cohoes.”