A 42-year-old driver who appeared drunk allegedly–and very briefly–pointed a loaded gun at a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop on Palm Coast Parkway late Thursday night before complying with orders to drop the gun. It was the latest de-escalation of what could have resulted in an officer-involved shooting.
The officer was Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Jacob West, an eight-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who has been at the receiving end of an unusual amount of dangerous situations, none resulting in serious injuries to himself or others.
Jason Keel, 42, a resident of 34 Fellowship Drive in Palm Coast, was arrested on two felony and two misdemeanor charges.
West was patrolling the area of Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road North in an unmarked agency vehicle when he saw a white Ford Fusion traveling east on the parkway and stopping at a red light on the crosswalk, rather than before the crosswalk. West activated the unmarked vehicle’s lights and began a traffic stop.
The vehicle pulled into the parking lot at Bank of America. Keel was at the wheel, and alone in the Fusion. He was leaning out the window as West approached, though West could only see one of Keel’s hands.
Keel said something to the effect of “I have a gun,” according to his arrest report and body camera video of the incident. He did not appear belligerent as much as he seemed clueless.
West immediately ordered him to place both hands on the steering wheel for safety. Keel briefly complied, only to then allegedly begin “reaching into the front passenger seat, deliberately and intentionally disobeying Cpl. J. West’s lawful orders to place both hands on the steering wheel,” the report states. West’s patrol car was unmarked, but West himself was in a sheriff’s uniform.
“Drop the gun! What are you doing?” West told him. Keel was reaching under a t-shirt laying on the front passenger seat, then produced a black handgun that was not encased or secured. Keel, according to the report, “manipulated the weapon in his hand as if he were going to fire the weapon, making the trigger easily accessible to him. Keel continued to move the firearm, presenting the barrel of the firearm at Cpl. J. West in a manner that appeared he was ready to fire the weapon.”
West retreated and drew his gun, issuing commands to Keel to drop his weapon. West, the report states, “was in fear that [Keel] intended to shoot based on [Keel] willingly refusing lawful orders and pointing a firearm, barrel first at a law enforcement officer.” But Keel complied, putting the gun back on the front passenger seat.
In the video, Keel briefly handles the gun, puts the gun back down and says “sorry, sorry,” before raising his arms and stepping out of the car to obey the deputy’s commands. He then kept apologizing and saying “I just wanted to hand it to you.”
West held Keel at gunpoint until another deputy arrived, when Keel was handcuffed. As he did so, he stumbled out the vehicle and had a hard time staying on his feet. His speech was slurred. His eyes were bloodshot. He could not follow commands: all the signs of drunkenness. The weapon he’d brandished was a Glock 43. West took it and removed the magazine. A round was ejected from the chamber, indicating the firearm had been loaded with a live round.
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper arrived at the scene. Keel refused to submit to field sobriety exercises even after being cautioned that that would leave law enforcement to make its determination of impairment based on observations then and there. Keel still refused, was read his rights and asked for an attorney, shutting down any questioning.
Keel was arrested on charges of drunk driving, carrying a concealed firearm, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and committing a weapons offense while drunk. The aggravated assault charge is a second degree felony. The concealed firearm charge is a third degree felony. The others are misdemeanors. He was also issued a drunk driving citation. He remains at the county jail on $25,000 bond.
Keel’s Fusion was towed by John’s Towing.
It’s only the latest but likely the most directly threatening incident involving West in the last several years. In March this year, West was slightly injured when a driver who’d been racing up U.S. 1 crashed into West’s patrol car enough to deploy airbags. The man pleaded to three charges, adjudication was withheld on a felony charge, and he’s currently serving a year of probation.
In December 2017, West was at the receiving end of threats on his life and kicks against his person by an individual involved in a domestic assault incident. The man pleaded to a reduced misdemeanor charge and served a year on probation. (The man was charged again with a felony battery on a person over 65, but the charge was dropped.) Earlier that year West was almost struck by the car of a fleeing suspect.
In June 2019, West was involved in an attempted suicide-by-cop situation, himself carrying out de-escalation techniques as he and other deputies confronted a woman with a knife.
The Sheriff’s Office continues a decade-long streak of avoiding officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities. The agency has had one incident where deputies have fired and struck a person, who had a gun in a parked car. The man survived. (See: “From Shooters to Saviors: How Flagler Deputies Shot an Armed Man, Then Saved Him From Suicide.“)
Two years ago, in one of various training exercises emphasizing de-escalation, all the agencies’ deputies went through simulations testing their split-second judgments in dangerous encounters, with some scenarios replicating almost exactly the situation West faced Thursday night on Palm Coast Parkway.