COHOES — Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague told reporters Thursday she presumed that a State Police investigation into an off-duty Cohoes police officer’s use of his service pistol in Elizabethtown was “ongoing” and that a “follow-up would be made in the near future.”
In a news release, the district attorney said she was “unable to comment on the facts of the investigation as I have not read the final report or final statements secured.”
But according to people with knowledge of the investigation, it was Sprague who in early June informed State Police that not enough evidence existed to prosecute Officer Sean T. McKown for his conduct outside his summer home on June 6.
Sprague and her top assistant, Michael Langey, met with State Police to discuss the case on June 10 and, in turn, decided her office would not bring a case against McKown, 46, a 19-year member of the force, for alleged menacing or for allegedly making a false report, the sources said.
A Cohoes officer is retiring after a bizarre episode in Elizabethtown involving alcohol and a false 911 report.
The Times Union first reported late Monday that McKown, who is white, called 911 and told State Police that, following confrontations with Black youths outside his home, a Black male youth displayed a gun and fired at him outside his home on Lincoln Pond Road. McKown said it prompted him to fire his weapon four times while retreating toward a hill. He said he ditched the gun, sources with knowledge of the case said. Trooper who responded to his 911 call said McKown appeared highly intoxicated and was asleep when they arrived.
McKown later called State Police back, admitted his story was false. He told them the Black male youth had not displayed a gun or fired at him, and said he had fired his department-issued gun into a tree stump, sources said. Troopers said they did not believe McKown’s second account was truthful about his decision to ditch the gun and believed he had neatly placed the weapon down. State Police described McKown’s various statements as “extremely inconsistent.”
Sprague did not want to bring a case against McKown for falsely reporting an incident because without the witnesses’ cooperation, the crime could not be proven, sources said. They said Sprague did want to pursue the charge of menacing, related to McKown’s use of his weapon against the youths, for lack of corroborating evidence.
The group, who had been walking around trying to find cell service when McKown approached them multiple times, did not want to press charges. They said they did not see McKown’s weapon or feel threatened, but did feel harassed, sources said.
On Monday, State Police told the Times Union the investigation had been closed with no charges filed.
That same day, when asked via email by the Times Union for comment, the district attorney said she could not comment “on a matter that is not or was not pending in my office. The investigating agency would be the best source for questions on an investigation they conducted and what appears to be information that they relayed to another agency.”
Sprague also stated, “The State Police/police agency investigate the cases and if an arrest is made it comes to my office for prosecution. We are separate entities. I do not have an investigative unit — we rely on police agencies. My office was never given a case that resulted in an arrest and being handled by my office. I have no further comment. I hope this helps clear up the confusion.”
On Tuesday, the Times Union emailed Sprague, asking if she had met with State Police on the matter, been aware of the incident or made a decision not to bring charges against McKown. She did not respond.
On Thursday, Sprague issued a news release to multiple outlets referencing the Times Union report, saying she believed it was necessary to respond to inquiries. Sprague said she and her top assistant met with State Police on June 10, and that her office made suggestions to State Police for steps they could take to substantiate any charge.
“Generally speaking, this suggestion is the same suggestion given in any case, which is to interview potential witnesses, ascertain their information, have them sign a sworn statement and confirm that they would be willing to testify at any future hearings or trials if needed,” Sprague said. “The officers agreed and I assumed went to follow up and continue the investigation. A short while later, I believe via a phone call, I was informed that the suggestion we made was completed, that the witnesses had no direct knowledge of a weapon and did not want to come back to testify. This was the last conversation that I personally had with the State Police about the investigation. I presumed that the investigation was ongoing and a follow-up would be made in the near future.”
Sprague said State Police later informed her of the pending Times Union story.
“I was informed that the investigation had already been closed without arrest,” she stated. “A final draft of the police report was never forwarded to my office and was never reviewed by any member of my office. To date, I have never read or seen this final New York State Police report.”
Sprague, a graduate of Albany Law School who has been district attorney since 2009, said all media inquiries should go to State Police.
Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler has said Cohoes police have also investigated McKown’s conduct. In 2018, McKown was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence in rural Illinois. The officer pleaded guilty to reckless driving and was suspended without pay; McKown was sentenced to a month of court supervision.
The mayor, a former State Police officer for more than 30 years, has said “the incident under investigation involved alleged behavior unbecoming of a police officer. If proven true — and in combination with a highly publicized DWI arrest two years ago — I would not entertain the idea of that officer patrolling the streets of Cohoes again.”
McKown is expected to retire in August. He has declined comment.
Keeler has said McKown’s retirement is a better option than suspending the officer, which could lead to a lengthy arbitration process and result in McKown being back on the job.
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