MANSFIELD — Sean Rowe's family members said they were not included by law enforcement in attempts to apprehend him.
Now they want answers as to what exactly happened on the day of his death.
“Right now I don’t think we have enough facts to know if it was a wrongful death or not,” his brother Justin Rowe said. “We don’t have the coroner's report. We don’t have the full police report. We don’t have the body cam. But the facts we do have don’t look good."
“We’re waiting for all the information, but it’s hard not to be enraged with the facts that we do see."
Sean's other brother, Pierce Rowe, did not rule out taking legal action against Richland County law enforcement.
“We’re exploring all options at this point,” he said. “We will gladly listen to information from the sheriff’s department on what actually happened.”
A tragic death
Sean Rowe died on Aug. 4 after the Richland County Sheriff’s Department attempted to serve him with an arrest warrant and a search warrant at the home of his girlfriend Jeannette “Jenny” Koehler.
It’s unclear what the warrants were for, but records from Lima show a bench warrant was issued for Sean’s arrest on May 4, 2021 -- a few months after he left his hometown to move in with Koehler.
The Rowes have spent a significant amount of time since then researching the incident, looking at news reports and carefully analyzing the drone footage released by law enforcement.
They found a report of a similar incident just a month before Sean’s death, when an armed standoff with the Mansfield Police Department came to a peaceful conclusion.
Police responded to a call at 261 E. Arch St. after a woman called and stated she’d had a verbal argument with her son, Charles Gandy, which led him to fire a gun outside the home.
The woman told police her son had “mental issues” and might be suffering from PTSD. After the man refused to allow officers to enter his home, law enforcement set up a perimeter around the residence and began coaxing Gandy from the home using a PA system as well as through phone contact.
This went on for several hours, during which time Gandy came to the door multiple times, carrying a firearm and yelling at officers to "come get him."
Mansfield Police Chief Keith Porch said that “after much talking and collaborative effort by many at the scene, Mr. Gandy peacefully surrendered to officers and he was taken into custody at 1:01 p.m. without incident."
Per the department press release, officers spent more than five hours attempting to negotiate with Gandy and even contacted several of his relatives for help.
“It is hard to understand when they had something that ended successfully, why they wouldn't use that same procedure in the same kind of situation,” said Sean's mother, Marge Rowe.
Capt. Donald Zehner of the Richland County Sheriff's Department confirmed that no one from his agency attempted to contact the family prior to Sean's death; however, the agency did reach out to multiple parties over the course of the month, including the area's Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT), in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
"We had hostage negations there and they were on the phone with (Sean) for hours," Zehner said of the Aug. 4 standoff.
The sheriff's department also had someone from the Veteran's Service Commission try to call and talk with Sean, executive director Ken Estep confirmed.
Porch confirmed that the HNT was also present at the July 8 standoff with Gandy. The group is affiliated with the SWAT team, but includes separate specially-trained officers from Mansfield and Ontario.
Zehner also noted that most of the department's employees have received Crisis Intervention Training.
"We take a lot of pride in that training," Zehner said. "Sooner or later they are all involved."
A month-long ordeal
Area law enforcement’s first known interaction with Sean Rowe was a month before his death, when the Richland County Sheriff’s office responded on July 4 to a call from a concerned neighbor.
Officers came to the home owned by Sean’s girlfriend (whom he referred to in videos as his wife), Jeannette “Jenny” Koehler. Rowe posted videos of the incident on YouTube where a man can be heard accusing officers of trespassing and threatening to shoot. He later claimed his family was being "domestically terrorized" by "corrupt law enforcement."
“We decided on July 4, after consultation with two other police chiefs and my personnel from the sheriff’s office, the best course of action on that day was just to leave,” Sheldon said. “We didn’t want to escalate it — we were trying to de-escalate it. We tried to get him to calm down and turn himself in and it just got progressively worse.”
The Rowes believe intervention from a family member could have saved Sean’s life. His mother and sister both live in Lima.
“They could have contacted us during the initial standoff,” Pierce Rowe said. “We could have diffused the whole thing on July 4.”
“If his mother is there on site, he's gonna surrender peacefully," he continued. "It's a lot better than men showing up with (AR-15s) in your yard.”
Zehner declined to say whether or not it is common to seek a family's help in ending a standoff, noting that every scenario is different.
The Army Times reported in March 2015 — citing Army personnel data — that Sean Rowe deployed with the Army Reserve to Iraq from 2004 to 2005, as a plumber. He then reportedly joined active duty and reclassified as a network switching systems operator, serving until 2010. He left service that year as a specialist, Army Times reported.
“I was just sick of the lifestyle, I didn’t agree politically with a lot of things, and I do consider myself an activist, so this really wasn’t a fit,” he told Army Times in 2015.
Pierce Rowe said Sean was discharged from the military because of a PTSD diagnosis. The family says they have no reason to believe he saw combat -- but that doesn’t mean his time overseas wasn't traumatizing.
“The environment in Iraq was a stressful environment, whether you're driving a Hummer down roads with possible IEDs, not knowing if your Hummer can just be blown up any moment ... between hearing machine gun rounds going off in mountains,” Pierce said.
Sean told family that he saw many fellow soldiers die.
“He also reports that bagging up body parts was part of their job there,” Pierce said.
The family feels Sean’s PTSD grew progressively worse after the July 4 encounter, as evidenced in the videos on his YouTube channel. Videos Sean posted made it clear he was willing to die for two things -- his rights on his private property and the woman he called his wife.
“I will die protecting her,” Sean said in a July 5 video.
Koehler was arrested on July 30 on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, expired registration and improperly handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle. Sean stated in some videos that law enforcement had allegedly fabricated charges and kidnapped her.
“I think that's the worst part, that they had all the facts in order to de-escalate it and all the facts in order to know what made him tick and use that to get them out of there alive, and instead they use those same facts to inflict maximum damage,” Justin Rowe said.
The Aug. 4 standoff began at about 1:30 p.m. Deputies from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department pleaded with Sean to exit the house. Soon afterward, the Mansfield Police Department SWAT team arrived on the scene.
Sean stayed inside the home, posting YouTube videos.
"I'm not going peacefully," he said in one video.
"There's literally a SWAT team in my yard," he added. "Men are trying to grab me, and I've done nothing wrong, folks.
“I'm preparing for war.”
Rowe’s family said it was law enforcement's approach that made Sean feel like he was in a war zone. In one of his videos, posted around 3:13 p.m., Sean stated the SWAT team had rammed its armored vehicle into the garage door.
Zehner confirmed that law enforcement used the SWAT vehicle to help access the home, but declined to elaborate further on the decision. He stated he didn't know the exact time the vehicle crashed into the garage.
A representative from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation declined to comment, citing a pending investigation.
The family believes the noise from the crash further triggered Sean’s PTSD.
“That’s not trying to de-escalate anything -- to destroy a man’s house so you can enter,” Pierce Rowe said.
Richland Source reporter Dillon Carr observed gas being shot towards the house while at the scene, at approximately 3:45 p.m. In a three-second video posted at approximately 4 p.m., Sean is shown with tears in his eyes and mucus running from his nose.
Sean exited the home shortly afterwards and stood on an upper level porch, swinging machetes against the railing.
Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon stated Rowe "re-entered the house upon hearing ASORT members coming in the residence and threatened the officers inside, armed with weapons," but the family believes the footage tells a different story.
Pierce believes that law enforcement shot a bean bag at Sean from below. The video then shows Sean run into the corner of the porch, then back into the house, where he darts to the left.
Based on photos of the home’s interior from friends, the Rowes believe Sean may not have seen the officers.
“Sean does not charge them at all. He is on the far left side,” Pierce said. “We have no reason to believe Shawn even knew SWAT was there.”
The Rowes believe law enforcement used tear gas to force him out so they could enter the home, only to drive him back in and towards the line of fire.
“Within 27 minutes of forcing him onto the balcony, they had shot and killed him on scene,” Pierce said. “By the time the medics arrived, he was already in severe cardiac arrest. There was nothing they could do there.”
According to the Rowes, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital personnel told them Sean had a faint heartbeat when paramedics arrived on the scene. They tried to revive him through CPR, but he died before arriving at the hospital.
A brother and son
Rowe’s family does not want to remember him as the man who was shot to death after an hours-long standoff.
“He was a brother. He played video games with us. He was a son. He was broken. He had many scars,” Pierce said.
Instead, they remember him as a free spirit who would sometimes disappear off the grid for awhile as he traveled across the country, relying on the help of churches and veteran’s organizations.
“He was a minimalist. He did not have possessions,” Pierce said. “His only mission was to help veterans. He was very passionate about it.”
While living in Florida, he founded a controversial guerilla group of veterans geared toward traveling to the Middle East to end the Islamic State once and for all. His efforts made national news -- but his work at a local farm for veterans was something only family and friends knew about.
At one point, he hoped to start a similar project back home. Then he pivoted his focus to microgreens.
“He wanted to have a place where veterans could grow things and sell them,” Marge Rowe said.
“He felt very protective of other veterans, wanting to protect them -- mostly from authorities who were wanting them to obey rules,” she said, chuckling. “Obeying rules was not a big thing with Sean.”
Like many veterans, Justin said his brother had a hard time reintegrating into civilian life, so he wanted to create a place where they could be free from society’s constraints.
“He wanted a place where they could work together, where they could be off on their own. He liked the idea of being in the country,” he said. “He was obsessive about those ideas.”
The family hopes that Sean’s death will prompt important conversations about how to help veterans with PTSD.
“You cannot make someone take medication. You cannot make someone seek help,” Pierce said. “But this is an issue in the country and it needs to be discussed and talked about.
"We don't have all the answers and we're not trying to tell anyone how to run their community, but it is something to talk about.”