Was Arlington cop aggressive in deadly shooting of armed driver? Here’s what experts say

While the Arlington Police Department is conducting internal affairs and criminal investigations of a shooting in which an officer killed an armed driver, two law enforcement experts who reviewed video of the incident say the shooting appeared to be justified. But one questioned whether the officer could have de-escalated the situation.

Sean McKay, 49, died on Feb. 8 after he was shot three times by an Arlington motorcycle cop who was conducting a traffic stop on Interstate 20. Police say McKay failed to comply with orders.

Questions regarding the officer’s conduct during the traffic stop arose when Arlington police held a news conference where they released body-camera video of the shooting. When asked by a reporter about the choice of words the officer used toward McKay, including telling the driver, “I’ll kill you,” Arlington Police Chief Al Jones said he was sure the officer wasn’t thinking that he wanted to kill him.

“What he wanted Mr. McKay to do was to comply with the orders that he’s given. Mr. McKay had several opportunities... Those two officers pretty much begged him to drop the weapon several times and he failed to comply,” Jones said.

Bodycam footage released by Arlington police starts with the cop — whose name is not being released pending the department’s standard investigations — directing McKay to pull over to the right shoulder of the highway. Instead, McKay crossed over several lanes of traffic on I-20 and pulled over on the left shoulder. A Kennedale officer also pulled over to assist the Arlington cop.

The Arlington officer is heard in the video yelling at McKay to get out of the car. McKay stayed in the vehicle and the officer walked up and opened the driver’s side door. When he approached the car, the officer said, “You don’t pull that kind of bull [expletive] with me.”

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The incident escalates when the officer asks McKay, “Your vehicle smells like weed. You got a gun in the car?” to which McKay shook his head.

The officer is heard in the video repeatedly asking McKay to turn the car off and to hand over the keys, which the driver refuses to do. At one point, the officer tries to grab the driver to pull him out of the car and McKay moves over to the passenger seat. Both officers order McKay to put his hands up after he is seen grabbing a handgun and holding it in his lap, the video shows.

After McKay repeatedly refuses orders to put his weapon down and put his hands up, the Arlington officer is heard in the video saying, “I’ll kill you. Put the gun down.” The Arlington officer shot McKay three times, according to police. McKay was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The Star-Telegram spoke with Johnny Nhan, a professor at TCU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, who analyzed the bodycam footage.

The Arlington officer had a few reasons that justified him to act aggressively and fire his gun, according to Nhan, who is also a reserve officer with the Fort Worth Police Department.

McKay was given multiple chances to comply with orders such as stepping out of the car, turning off the car, and dropping his gun, Nhan said.

“His initial non-disclosure of the gun when asked meant he was not to be trusted,” Nhan told the Star-Telegram.

Jones also said at the police department’s news conference that deadly outcomes could be prevented if residents comply with officers.

Nhan said that the Arlington cop’s actions were also justified due to McKay refusing to put his gun down. According to Jones, McKay had a criminal history including a capital murder charge and weapons violations. Legally, he should have not had a weapon with him, the police chief said.

The movements McKay made when he grabbed his weapon in his vehicle suggested he was trying to conceal his hand, leading the officer to believe he was about to act, according to Nhan.

“So more generally, the officer had probable cause to pull him over, has the authority to have him get out of his car, and had reason to believe he was not going to comply and instead was going to act aggressively, possibly shooting,” Nhan said in an email.

The Star-Telegram also spoke with Alejandro del Carmen, a professor and associate dean at Tarleton State University’s School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Administration, who reviewed the bodycam recording.

Similar to Nhan, del Carmen said justification to use lethal force is “particularly true” in the last few seconds of the video that shows McKay “in the process of pointing the gun at officers.” In the video, shortly before the officer fires, McKay takes the gun off his lap and holds it in his right hand.

While the shooting will likely be ruled to have been within the police department’s policy, the question remains of whether the officer could have handled the incident in a different manner, del Carmen told the Star-Telegram.

“That is, to de-escalate the situation instead of what appeared to be an escalation which ultimately led to the suspect’s death,” del Carmen said.

The officer could have called for backup, in addition to the Kennedale officer who was also at the scene, del Carmen said.

According to Jones, the officer did call for backup, when he is heard in the video asking for a “Code 3.” But more officers did not arrive prior to the shooting.

Jones also addressed the possibility of de-escalating the incident at the news conference.

“When they saw that gun, that became a deadly situation. There is really not that much room where they could have de-escalated,” Jones said.

Officers do not have to wait for someone to point their gun at them before they fire their weapons, Jones said.