Problems in Tulsa
A former home town of mine and a city where I joined law enforcement as a police officer is in the national news this week because of a shooting incident involving a black citizen and a white, female police officer.
Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black male, was shot and killed by Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Jo Shelby after she stopped to investigate a vehicle left in the middle of the road with its engine running. Crutcher was standing off to the side of the road and was mumbling that the car was going to explode.
Officer Shelby was on her way to a domestic abuse call when she encountered the vehicle and stopped behind it without turning on her emergency lights. When the emergency lights are illuminated, it automatically turns on the video dash cam which records the entire interaction between an officer and a suspect. This didn't happen so what occurred in the first couple of minutes before other officers arrived is not factually known.
What is known is that the suspect was walking towards his vehicle with his hands in the air followed by officer Shelby and a couple of other officers. When he got to the driver's side of the car he lowered his arms and was shot by Officer Shelby. At almost exactly the same time, he was tased by another police officer. The simultaneous firing of a weapon and a Taser would suggest that both officers saw or heard something that caused them to react in an offensive way but what it was is not clear as of now.
After an investigation, the Tulsa County prosecutor's office filed first degree manslaughter charges against Officer Shelby. She is a former Tulsa County Sheriff's deputy and joined the Tulsa Police Department in 2011. Her husband, also a Tulsa Police officer, was in a Tulsa Police helicopter hovering above the scene and watched the event as it unfolded. Office Shelby turned herself in yesterday and was booked and immediately released on $50,000 bond.
The reason why this is a national story is that it once again raises the question of institutional racism on the part of white police officers against black suspects. Was anyone's personal safety in jeopardy at the time of the shooting or was it an excuse to shoot and kill a black person? The suspect Crutcher was described by a police officer on the helicopter's audio as being a 'bad looking dude'. Crutcher was 5'11" tall and weighed 244 pounds. He had eight open misdemeanor warrants at the time of his death. He had been convicted of carrying a weapon, resisting an officer, petit larceny, driving with a suspended license, obstructing an officer and driving under the influence. He was in prison from 2007 to 2011 for felony drug trafficking and police reported finding an unknown quantity of drugs inside the car after the shooting.
So the suspect was obviously not a choir boy but the question remains did he do anything to justify the use of deadly force by the officer? Tulsa's police chief is Chuck Jordan who joined the police department two years after I did so we served together three more years before I left. I knew who Chuck was but we were not close friends.
Chief Jordan was quoted over the summer as saying "black lives matter to us" which was a departure from the typical police response to the Black Lives Matter movement. He, along with the prosecutor's office, was praised for their quick investigation and actions in regards to the shooting by the victim's family. The victim's sister said the police officer "prejudged" her brother based on his appearance and attitude.
No weapons were found either on the suspect or in the vehicle he was driving.
Much more information will come out following a complete investigation by the police department along with Officer Shelby's trial. Perhaps the most compelling evidence will be the explanation of why Officer Shelby discharged her service revolver at approximately the same time a fellow officer fired his Taser.
Something happened to cause two highly trained police officers to react in the same way and whatever that something was could very well explain and perhaps justify why Officer Shelby felt she had to use deadly force.