UPDATE: The Tulsa police officer who shot Terence Cruther has been charged with first-degree manslaughter by the Tulsa D.A.
Tulsa is in crisis.
For the second time in less than two years, the Oklahoma boomtown is reeling from a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man at the hands of white cops.
In April 2015, a wealthy, 74-year-old volunteer deputy at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed 44-year-old Eric Harris during a drug-buy sting operation gone bad. The convicted pay-to-play cop, Bob Bates, apologized after he accidentally fired his handgun instead of his less-lethal Taser.
Now the Tulsa Police Department is in the national spotlight over the shooting of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, a father of four who had his hands up last week when he was fatally blasted by Officer Betty Jo Shelby and tased by a fellow cop.
“The video is so clear cut. His hands were in the air. The window was up. He was unarmed. He was moving slow. He was not a threat. He was not a fleeing felon,” Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, told MSNBC on Wednesday.
Officer Shelby “prejudged him—he didn’t have a chance to live. And it’s just not right,” added the sibling, who is joining the chorus calling for criminal charges against the Tulsa cop. Oklahoma authorities and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the case to determine if Crutcher’s civil rights were violated.
Tulsa police quickly released raw dashcam and helicopter footage Monday showing the moments leading up to Crutcher’s death. The next day, a Tulsa homicide sergeant told the Tulsa World a vial of PCP was found in the victim’s vehicle—an allegation the Crutcher family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, dispelled as a “red herring.”
Police say Shelby and fellow officers were responding to calls about a vehicle abandoned in the middle 36th Street North near Lewis Avenue at around 7:30 p.m Friday. One 911 caller said, “There was a guy running from it” and “I think he’s smoking something.
“I got out and was like, ‘Do you need help?’… and he’s like ‘Come here, come here. I think it’s going to blow up,’” the caller added.
The graphic video shows the last moments of Crutcher’s life.
His tan SUV, parked in the middle of 36th Street North, was surrounded by multiple police squad cars. Crutcher came into the frame walking away from cops and toward the driver’s side of his vehicle. An officer in the helicopter is heard saying, “time for a Taser, I think,” before declaring, “that looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.”
Crutcher’s hands were raised in the air before his right hand lowered and began to fidget in his pants pocket in front of his driver’s side door. Then he was shot with a single bullet and a Taser—almost simultaneously—before dropping to the ground, his blood pooling across his chest.
Officer Shelby, 42, can be heard almost going hoarse when she screams, “Shots fired!” into her police radio. The officers at the scene left Crutcher in the road, failing to render medical aid for at least a minute, footage shows.
All the while, Shelby’s husband, fellow Tulsa officer and Iraq War vet Dave Shelby, was in the police helicopter circling above the deadly encounter.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Monday there was no gun on Crutcher or in his vehicle. “I want to assure our community, and I want to assure all of you and people across the nation who are going to be looking at this, we will achieve justice, period,” Jordan told reporters.
Jordan has been trying to tend to Tulsa’s strained relationship between law enforcement and the black community. The top cop received a standing ovation when he said, “Black lives matter to us,” during a July forum on race, the Tulsa World reported.
“Across the country, everyone’s pointing at chiefs of police and sheriffs and saying, ‘Fix this problem,’” Jordan told the audience. “I appreciate that you all are trying to help us fix this problem, and that’s a big deal to me… This is a huge problem, and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it alone.”
The same day as his speech, Tulsa activists called for the resignation of one of Jordan’s commanders over a “divisive” opinion column.
Major Travis Yates penned a post titled “This is War” in reaction to a Dallas sniper murdering five police officers during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.
“Black Lives Matter continues to be invited to the White House and given a voice despite violence breaking out all around them and despite all of that... no one wants to acknowledge the obvious,” Yates writes on LawOfficer.com.
“We are at war!” the cop concludes.
Marq Lewis, founder of We the People Oklahoma, told local media Yates’s post was “divisive and very concerning” and that he was worried Yates’s command would be influenced by his declarations.
Yates apologized during the July forum and was transferred to another division days later. (Tulsa police said the transfer was not related to his column, but a periodic reshuffling of division commanders, the World reported.)
“I will tell you in the crowd, I wrote that about 30 minutes after I saw three of my colleagues hunted down by a coward with an assault weapon,” Yates said, according to KTUL. “I was upset, as most law enforcement officers were.”
Still, watchdogs note Major Yates headed Tulsa’s Gilcrease Division in north Tulsa, where a majority of black residents live. The northside was also the site of one of the worst race riots in American history in 1921, when white mobs killed hundreds of people and leveled the Greenwood neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.”
Officer Betty Jo Shelby, now on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, worked in the Gilcrease Division too, presumably under Yates’s command.
“If there are officers at TPD with this mentality, it is problematic for the community as a whole,” said Daniel Smolen, a civil-rights attorney in Tulsa who represents the family of Eric Harris and others killed by the sheriff’s department.
“If you view it as ‘We’re at war,’ then guys who have a car broken down in the middle of the road and who are ‘big, black, and scary’ get shot,” Smolen added.
Smolen is also representing the family of Elliott Williams, a black Army vet who died in Tulsa’s jail in 2011 when guards left him paralyzed for days on the floor of his cell. (This summer, a federal judge ruled the family’s lawsuit against the sheriff’s office could move forward.)
Williams’s case sparked national outrage in April following a Daily Beast investigation into his death and other deaths at the Tulsa County jail.
“You’ve got the death of Elliott Williams, the Eric Harris shooting, and now you have this [Terence Crutcher’s death], in a relatively small city in the Midwest,” Smolen told The Daily Beast. “You have to wonder why it’s happening.
“It’s a segregated community and it has been since the race riots [of 1921],” the lawyer added. “These issues need to be addressed and dealt with from a community perspective… [or] things will continue to happen like this.”
Betty Jo Shelby was assigned to the Gilcrease district in August 2015 and was hired by Tulsa PD in December 2011, her attorney told The Daily Beast.
She previously worked at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, where she became the first female member of the Underwater Investigation Unit in 2009, the World reported.
Two weeks before striking down Crutcher, Officer Shelby was featured in a photo on the Tulsa Police Department’s Facebook page, posing with a black couple identified only as the Joneses. The caption indicates the Joneses gave Shelby a bouquet to thank her.
Shelby and the Joneses were all smiles in the Aug. 28 photo-op—days after their gaming system and multiple flat-screen television sets were stolen, the Jones family confirmed.
The Tulsa PD praised Officer Shelby in the post and noted that the Joneses were “victims of a burglary and Officer Shelby had responded… was able to locate the stolen property and return it to the Joneses.”
The social-media salute ended with praise for their civil servant’s good police work: “Well done, Officer Shelby and thanks to the Joneses for making her day.”
Indeed, it was Officer Shelby who responded and managed to nab the neighborhood teens.
Reached by phone, a Jones family member, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that the cop who right now is being branded a “murderer” was a hero when she helped recover the stolen gizmos.
“She responded to the call and she did a good job that day,” the Jones family member said, but declined to comment further on the officer who’s now under national scrutiny for the fatal shooting of Crutcher.
Bright Future, Troubled Past
Terence Crutcher’s family said he wanted to turn his life around.
The dad, who turned 40 last month, had enrolled at Tulsa Community College and was on his way home from class just before he died by a single police bullet, relatives said.
“I’m gonna show you, I’m gonna make you all proud,” Crutcher wrote in a recent text message to his sister, Tiffany told reporters at a press conference.
On the fateful Friday night encounter with Officer Shelby, Crutcher was supposed to have his music appreciation class at Tulsa Community College.
According to its course description the class emphasizes “the European classical repertoire as well as non-Western practices” and is “designed to introduce students to the study of music as an aesthetic, historical, and cultural phenomenon.”
A college spokeswoman confirmed that emails and phone calls were made to students who enrolled in the four-week “fast-track” music class informing them it was canceled due to “low enrollment.”
It’s unclear if Crutcher, who enrolled in “three to four” other classes and had been attending the institution sporadically for the last two years, received a call or email or if he had even tried to go to the class that night and learned upon arrival that it was canceled.
In a news conference Wednesday, Tiffany Crutcher said her brother was excited about starting community college and walked around campus Friday and talked with professors. “They were the last to actually interact with my brother,” she said.
Crutcher had a history of run-ins with law enforcement, court records show. The documents show authorities possibly misspelled his first name as “Terance” instead of “Terence.”
On Wednesday, Tulsa police spokesman Officer Leland Ashley told The Daily Beast that Crutcher had eight open misdemeanor warrants stemming from a failure to pay penalties on previous charges, including public intoxication.
In 1995, Crutcher was arrested in Osage County after police allegedly saw him fire his weapon out of a vehicle window. On that occasion, cops pulled him over for a pat-down and discovered a .25-caliber pistol tucked in his right sock, the AP reported. He received a suspended sentence after pleading no contest to charges of carrying a weapon and resisting an officer, according to the AP.
His criminal record also includes misdemeanor convictions for petit larceny, driving with a suspended license, obstructing an officer, and driving under the influence, court records show.
Crutcher, who also went by the alias “Crutch,” served a stint in prison from 2007 to 2011 for felony drug trafficking before being paroled. The same year he was released, he was cuffed for public intoxication. According to a probable cause affidavit, Crutcher reported to the probation office one morning in November 2011 with “the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath and person.”
In November 2013, Crutcher was pulled over by a state trooper around midnight for driving under the influence, court records show.
According to the trooper’s affidavit, Crutcher was going 80 mph in a 65 mph zone and failed to stay in his lane. Crutcher also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, the trooper said. Crutcher allegedly didn’t pull over until a half-mile after the trooper flashed his lightpack and activated his siren.
Once confronted, Crutcher was slurring his speech and had “the extreme odor of an alcoholic beverage” on his breath, the affidavit states. The patrolman found an open can of Steel Reserve beer in the vehicle’s center console.
The cop also noticed one of Crutcher’s eyes did not appear to be functional, according to the police report.
When pressed, Crutcher confirmed “that he had a fake eye.”
The trooper proceeded to book Crutcher, citing the “very droopy, heavy eyelids” of “Crutcher’s good eye” and noted that he “seemed to be disoriented and confused,” the affidavit states.
In his guilty plea, Crutcher wrote, “I was speeding, did not have my seatbelt on, had an open container of beer and I was driving under the influence of alcohol. Further I resisted the officer when he went to arrest me.”
Officer Betty Shelby supposedly wanted to help Terence Crutcher when she spotted his stranded vehicle, or so her attorney told The Daily Beast.
At around 7:30 p.m. Friday, Shelby was booking it to a domestic disturbance call located at a tiny shack along East Seminole Place in the North Tulsa, her lawyer, Scott Wood, said in a lengthy phone interview.
But the uniformed cop was only five blocks east from her post when she decided to “stop and help” with a more pressing situation in front of her.
While stopped at a cross-section of town, Shelby spotted a man wearing a big white T-shirt standing in the middle of road, eyeing the asphalt.
Standing out of the lane, Officer Shelby told Wood that the man seemed harmless enough.
So Shelby kept driving, her lawyer says.
She only made it a few hundred feet before happening on an idling SUV which had crossed over the double lines, its motor still running.
Shelby then exited her cruiser and attempted to rule out if the car was part of a drive-by shooting or if an abduction had occurred, her lawyer said.
By this point 911 calls were being logged from passers-by describing Crutcher’s strange behavior and the SUV he’d walked away from, which he allegedly warned was “going to blow up,” according to one 911 recording.
After Shelby checked the car’s abandoned state, Crutcher reappeared.
“Lo and behold who comes walking up to her is [Terence] Crutcher,” Wood said, recalling Shelby’s version of events. “Betty looks at him and says, ‘Hey is this your car?’”
Dash cameras on the squad cars were rolling as was the eye in the sky. The police chopper piloted by Officer Shelby’s husband was hovering above, training a camera on the scene unfolding in front of his wife’s car, referred to by dispatch as “Adam 303.”
“They had just happened to be on a call in an area close by,” Wood said of the helicopter’s proximity to what would become a fatal shooting. “So when they cleared that, they heard she is out with the vehicle and they head over that way to watch what is going on.”
It was not custom for Shelby’s husband to keep tabs on his civil-servant spouse, Wood said. “He’s not following her every move, no.” (A Tulsa police spokesman told The Daily Beast the police helicopter patrols the city almost daily, assisting when needed but not routinely partnering with specific cops on the ground.)
Wood said Shelby asked Crutcher, “Hey, is this your car over here?” But Crutcher allegedly didn’t “make (a) facial expression or say anything” other than mumble “something she couldn’t understand,” Wood told The Daily Beast.
So she apparently tried again.
“Hey is this your car? Let’s do something with it if it is. What’s going on?” Shelby asked Crutcher, according to the cop’s attorney.
The Daily Beast could not confirm Wood’s version of events. It’s unclear if any other audio of the shooting would become available, as officers responding to the incident weren’t wearing body cameras, News on 6 reported.
Shelby told homicide detectives that the 5-foot-11, 244-pound Crutcher “starts walking towards her and he starts to put his hand in his pocket,” according to Wood, who also represented killer grandpa deputy Bob Bates.
Wood claims that Shelby believes she saw “furtive movement” and that put the policewoman on the defense: “She says, ‘Hey, hey do me a favor. Keep your hands out of your pocket and just tell me is this your car? What do you know about this vehicle.’”
Officer Shelby claimed she told Crutcher to keep his hands out of his pockets—and, Wood says, “he sort of” complied by putting his hands in the air “without being told.”
Hoping to get the man to come to her, Officer Shelby allegedly told him: “Talk to me. What’s going on?”
Her attorney said the man’s head lowered but he locked his eyes on Shelby “so he’s looking right out underneath his eyebrow which she thinks is really weird.”
“It’s like a thousand-mile stare,” Wood said his client recalled.
Two more times, the cop’s attorney said, Shelby asked Crutcher to engage and he rebuffed and each time raised his hands in the air before lowering them into his pockets.
After the third try, Officer Shelby claimed she told Crutcher, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Talk to me.”
He didn’t respond and she wasn’t asking anymore.
“Get your hand out of your pockets where I can them,” she ordered Crutcher, before calling in for backup. “Get down on your knees.”
Wood said Shelby, a trained drug recognition expert, determined that Crutcher was inebriated.
A Tulsa Police sergeant later claimed there was an unknown amount of PCP found inside Crutcher’s car—which the Crutcher family’s attorney disputes.
At this point, the video footage shows Crutcher returning back to his car with his hands up. At that moment, according to Shelby’s attorney, the cop believed that the man was evading her. Wood claims Crutcher continued to fidget with his pockets with his right hand as he’s stood by the driver’s side of the SUV.
It has been debated whether the car window was up or down.
Crutcher’s family believe it was up, and Officer Shelby, through her attorney, has maintained it was rolled down in the moments before the man was shot and tased.
The standoff led to the Taser fired off by Tulsa Police Department Officer Tyler Turnbough and then Shelby’s single, fatal gunshot to Crutcher’s chest.
When asked why Shelby produced her department issued service weapon and not her Taser like her fellow officer, Wood said she followed department protocols and training.
“When she got to a point where he was not obeying commands and repeatedly tried to put his hand in his left pocket she thought he possibly had a gun.
According to Wood, Officer Betty Shelby had never fired her police-issued firearm at all in public outside of the range before.
“Of course off-duty at the range for training,” Wood said. “But she’s never used deadly force before.”
Further, Wood confirmed Shelby was not required to submit to any kind of alcohol or drug testing after shooting Crutcher.
Before joining the Tulsa police force in 2011, Shelby served a four-year tenure as a Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy.
While administering a warrant on a suspect back in 2010, Shelby and other deputies were involved in a use-of-force incident where they drew their weapons without firing.
Afterward, Shelby filled out a report about unholstering her gun and it was determined she was following department guidelines. “She was never found out of policy or disciplined at the Sheriff’s Office,” Wood said.
Besides being trained to determine if someone is high on drugs or not, Officer Shelby was a seasoned medic.
Seconds after Crutcher was felled to the ground by her gunshot, Shelby wanted to save his life, Wood claims.
Her husband up in the sky was concerned but also apparently in no hurry to come to his wife’s aid.
When asked if he wanted to land the helicopter prematurely, Shelby’s husband is steadfast.
“We can go back if you need to,” his partner states as heard on the audio recording from the chopper following the fatal shooting.
“Big girl, man. I’ve got my job to do too,” Shelby’s helicopter pilot husband Dave Shelby said. “After we land I’ll go check on her.”