Despite having a chemical intoxicant in his system, a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy’s actions were “justified” earlier this year when he fatally shot a Port Barrington man whose wife told police he was threatening to kill her, the county’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.
Deputy Nicholas Arnold shot and killed Nicholas Sebastian, 43, at his home during an early morning exchange of gunfire on Jan. 11. Sebastian’s 41-year-old wife, who later told police Sebastian had been acting “like a demon,” was shot in the leg by her husband before Arnold returned fire, authorities said.
Arnold did what he had to do “from the perspective of a reasonable officer in the same situation” to save the life of Sebastian’s wife and his own, according to the report.
The report was one of two released Wednesday regarding shootings by McHenry County sheriff’s deputies occurring within months of each other. The other involving Randall Little, 58, of Harvard, who is charged with attempted first-degree murder of a deputy, also was deemed justified.
The report on the Sebastian shooting offered new insight into what police said transpired before Arnold shot Sebastian multiple times and killed him.
Two McHenry County sheriff’s deputies responded about 1:10 a.m. Jan. 11 to Sebastian’s home in the 200 block of Manchester Lane for a domestic violence situation, according to the report.
Sebastian threatened to kill his wife, their two young sons and himself, she told investigators afterward. When police arrived, Sebastian’s wife ran out of the house through the garage and Sebastian, wearing a bulletproof vest and wielding a handgun, ran after her.
Sebastian began shooting, striking his wife, who was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to police reports and the report issued by the state’s attorney’s office.
Arnold returned fire, killing Sebastian. The other deputy who responded with Arnold, Travis Bodway, did not fire any shots. In recorded video taken by a dash camera in Bodway’s squad, Bodway is “depicted turning on his flashlight and illuminating the garage area from the street,” according to the report.
Arnold joined the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office in January 2021, according to a Facebook post about his swearing in. At the time, he was headed to the police academy for training.
The internal investigation into the Sebastian shooting, led by the McHenry County Major Investigations Assistance Team, found Arnold to have an intoxicant called DFE, or 1,1-difluoroethane, in his system. It was unclear if he inhaled the chemical “prior to his shift or while on duty,” according to the report.
The chemical is used as a propellant in consumer products such as keyboard cleaners and can be “huffed” to achieve an altered mental state and feelings of euphoria, light-headedness and disorientation.
Citing forensic toxicologists at both Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory and NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, the state’s attorney’s office said it is unlikely that normal environmental exposure could explain the concentration level found in Arnold’s blood. Both toxicologists indicated that the result is most consistent with “intentional use,” according to the report.
When reached Wednesday morning, Jamie Wombacher, Arnold’s attorney, said she had not yet seen the report and declined to comment.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it cannot comment on Arnold’s blood test results as it has not yet received final reports, evidentiary findings or interview transcripts.
“To comment on an ongoing investigation by an independent agency, without sufficient information, would be improper,” the sheriff’s office said in the statement. “After a thorough review of all the documentation, once received, this office will make a determination on the next course of action.”
If that means an internal investigation or other measures are warranted, the sheriff’s office will move forward in that direction, according to the statement.
The agency did not respond to other Northwest Herald questions about the state’s attorney’s office report, including whether any or all of the deputies will be removed from paid administrative leave.
Attempts to reach the deputies named in the report Wednesday were not immediately successful. Both deputies have been on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the outside investigation, authorities have said.
The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office is “gravely concerned” by the finding and an investigation into the matter is ongoing, it said in the report. Given the “totality of the circumstances,” however, the office concluded the shooting was “justified.”
“The lab result alone, however, is insufficient to change our opinion as to the lawfulness of the shooting,” the state’s attorney’s office said in the report. “In view of the short-lived effects of DFE [1,1-difluoroethane] and lack of any observed outward signs of impairment, there is no evidence that Deputy Arnold was under the influence at the time of the shooting. Moreover, Nicholas Sebastian’s deadly intent and conduct has been established independent of any account given by Deputy Arnold and arose independent of Deputy Arnold’s actions.”
The report also cited interviews with medical personnel and other deputies who said they did not observe any intoxicated behavior from Arnold before, during or after the shooting.
Sebastian fired at his wife five times as she ran from him through the garage, striking her once in the right leg, according to the report, which detailed interviews, physical evidence, video footage from a home security camera and Bodway’s squad car dash camera footage.
On the advice of their attorneys, both Arnold and Bodway declined to speak to MIAT investigators, according to the report. Neither was wearing a body camera, though the shooting was visible on Bodway’s squad car dash camera footage. According to the report, the video is of poor quality.
As Arnold ran from the front door of the home toward the garage, he heard gunshots and then a woman cry out. As the garage door was opening, he saw Sebastian’s wife on the ground and asked where Sebastian was. The woman motioned he was behind her, according to the report.
Bodway told the lieutenant that as the garage door was still going up, Sebastian “just starts blasting as we’re walking up.”
Sebastian then moved toward Arnold with his gun pointed “as though he is going to engage,” Arnold told a lieutenant who arrived after the shooting, according to the report. Arnold said he then “fired his service weapon until the slide locked back, indicating that he had fired all the ammunition in the gun magazine.”
“Nicholas Sebastian moved toward Deputy Arnold, face forward, with a weapon drawn and [he] fired his weapon multiple times, from only a few feet away,” according to the report, citing the squad camera footage and shell casings found. Arnold was not hit by Sebastian’s gunfire, according to the report.
Arnold said Sebastian then “fell to the ground” and Arnold reloaded his firearm, dropping the empty magazine, according to the report.
An autopsy showed that Sebastian died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the report. Further testing showed Sebastian had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.18, more than twice the legal limit for driving, and the presence of cocaine, opioids, and benzodiazepines, according to the report.
Sebastian’s wife told an investigator that Sebastian, whom she claimed was an alcoholic, had been drinking excessively that evening, according to the report. He came into her bedroom, took her phone and became “upset” when he saw a meme on her phone stating: “You can’t love someone enough to make them sober.”
Sebastian was “pouring sweat,” appeared to be “on something,” not in “the right state of mind,” and was “like a demon,” she said. She told the detective she was “terrified,” according to the report.
Security footage in the home captured the couple arguing about his substance abuse and Sebastian threatening her, saying, “You called the cops, so we’re all gonna die.” Text messages from less than an hour before police were called showed Sebastian threatening to kill their children, according to the report.
She told detectives that Sebastian began using cocaine and he was “fixated” on her being unfaithful. She described the two months with her husband leading up to the shooting as a “nightmare,” according to the report. A large bruise on her arm was caused by her husband “a few days earlier after an ‘incident’ had ‘escalated,’” she told investigators.
Detectives also questioned Nicholas Sebastian’s 22-year-old son who said his father started “using cocaine and drinking excessively” about six months prior and had “become increasingly violent” toward his wife.
He told police his father “would often put on a bullet proof vest, bullet proof mask, and brandish a firearm when angry,” according to the report.