August 7, 2020

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

by Elizabeth Izzo

John Brown Lives Executive Director Martha Swan speaks at a press conference outside the Essex County Courthouse on Thursday, Aug. 6. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

ELIZABETHTOWN — More than 700 people have co-signed a letter calling for a full investigation into an alleged incident between a white off-duty Cohoes police officer and a group of young Black people in Elizabethtown two months ago.

The letter, addressed to Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, was hand-delivered to the DA’s office by Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicole Hylton-Patterson, John Brown Lives Director Martha Swan and Westport-based attorney Matthew Melewski on Thursday.

“We ask that your office uphold its promise of justice for all,” the letter reads. “A police officer filing a false police report is an outrageous breach of the public trust that cannot be condoned in a free and just society.”

The call for an investigation comes after the Albany Times Union newspaper published a report detailing what’s known about an alleged incident that happened on June 6 between Cohoes police officer Sean McKown, 46, and a group of unidentified young people.

After admitting that he shared false information about the incident with New York State Police, McKown has yet to face charges or internal disciplinary action, according to the Times Union. He’s set to retire from the Cohoes police department this month.

Adirondack Diversity Initiative director Nicole Hylton-Patterson speaks during a press conference outside the Essex County Courthouse on Thursday, Aug. 6. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“This is not a trivial matter,” said Melewski. “This is not a child pulling a fire alarm, falsely reporting a fire. This is very, very serious. And someone needs to take responsibility.”

“Someone decided to bury it,” he said, when asked by a reporter what went wrong after the incident was reported to State Police. “Who made that decision, and who is an accomplice to that decision, is something I think the press can assist in finding out.”

McKown alleges gunfight

Pictured, from left, are Adirondack Diversity Initiative Director Nicole Hylton-Patterson, John Brown Lives Director Martha Swan and Westport-based attorney Matthew Melewski as they enter the Essex County Courthouse to deliver a letter to District Attorney Kristy Sprague on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

State Police responded to Lincoln Pond Road in Elizabethtown on June 6 after the agency received a 911 call from McKown about an alleged gunfight between himself and a young Black man outside of his vacation home.

State Police responded to McKown’s Elizabethtown home after his call initially triggered a response from the Cohoes police department. The department was initially unaware that McKown was in the Adirondacks when he made his 911 call, not at his home in Cohoes, the Times Union reported.

McKown told police that after multiple confrontations between himself and a group of young Black people outside of his home, a Black man lifted his shirt to reveal a silver gun in his waistband, the Times Union reported. McKown said the young man fired the gun at him and that he fired his department-issued weapon four times, while retreating toward a hill, before he threw the gun to the side for fear that the weapon could be used against him.

When officers arrived, they found McKown asleep and highly intoxicated, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told the Times Union. McKown later admitted that he had given state troopers false information. He said he never shot his weapon while he was running away, but that he shot at a tree stump in his backyard after he heard a pop and wanted to scare off whoever made the noise.

State Police, who later obtained a video of the incident from a neighbor, have described McKown’s description of events as “extremely inconsistent.”

State Police say the case is closed and no charges have been filed.

People with knowledge of the investigation told the Times Union that it was Sprague who, in early June, told State Police that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute McKown for his conduct.

“Since it was early on in the process, my office made suggestions to the officers as to what they could do that may help gather the relevant and necessary information needed to substantiate any potential charges,” Sprague wrote in a statement published in the Enterprise last week. “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. The officers agreed and, I assumed, went to follow up and continue the investigation.”

Sources also told the Times Union that after a meeting with State Police on June 10, Sprague decided her office wouldn’t bring a case against McKown.

Sprague has a different recollection.

“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,” she wrote. “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 she didn’t know the case had been closed until she received a call from State Police on July 27, when officers informed her that the Times Union would be publishing a story about the incident.

“To date, I have never read or seen this final New York State Police report,” she wrote. “At this time, I am unable to comment on the facts of the investigation as I have not read the final report or final statements secured. No arrest was made, and the investigation was closed by decision of the State Police.”