“That big bad dude was a father, that big bad dude was a son, that big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College just wanting to make us all proud, that big bad dude loved God, that big bad dude was in church singing with all of his flaws every week.”
That big bad dude was 40-year-old Terence Crutcher—a man who raised his hands high above his head in submission before he was shot to death Friday by police in Oklahoma— and those are the words of his twin sister Tiffany, who is now left to plan his funeral service.
Slumped beside his stalled SUV, his blood streaming out onto the asphalt, it is impossible to reconcile those final tragic moments captured on police video—impossible to understand why an unarmed man, suspected of committing no crime and who threatened no one, was summarily shot on an open roadway by an officer sworn to serve and protect him.
It appears his only crime was being a large, black man who had the misfortune of having his car break down on a public street. He paid for that with his life.
Crutcher was leaving a music appreciation class at a community college when his car stalled out, his family said. The silver SUV was reportedly “straddling the centerline of the northeast Tulsa road with its engine idling and its doors open” near 36th Street and Lewis Avenue when the first officer arrived, drew her gun and began spitting out commands. She called for backup, claiming the stranded motorist was unresponsive.
In all, a total of four officers and a helicopter responded to reports of an abandoned vehicle blocking the road. One of them pointed a Taser at Crutcher, but it was Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, the first to arrive on the scene, who fired the single shot. She pulled the trigger mere seconds after a second squad car arrived, killing the father of four.
For her part, Shelby claimed the victim was reaching into a passenger-side window of her car and that she, an armed officer of the law surrounded by three others and backed up by a police chopper, felt threatened.
Shelby is no rookie. A decorated officer hired by the Tulsa department in 2011 after several years in the county sheriff’s office, she is a field trainer and is married to another officer. And she has twice been accused of using excessive force in the line of duty.
According to the New York Daily News, “Shelby’s dash cam was never activated because she never turned on her top lights or sirens, so there is no video footage showing the two minutes that Shelby first arrived to the scene and interacted with Crutcher.” The incident was captured by the second squad car’s dash camera and a video taken from the police helicopter hovering overhead.
“He’s got his hands up there for her now,” one officer aboard the chopper said. That officer, believed to her husband Dave, then unwittingly and directly contradicts Officer Shelby’s statements to investigators. “This guy is still walking and following commands.”
“That looks like a bad dude,” an unidentified officer aboard responded, without prompting or apparent cause, moments before Crutcher was shot dead.
Without that footage, and the audio from the chopper feed, the Officer Shelby story might have been taken at face value and, in all likelihood, Crutcher’s death would’ve been written off as just another “clean shoot.”
The public has been promised a full and transparent investigation. Together, local, state, and federal investigators will begin to piece together what happened. As the process demands, Officer Shelby has been placed on paid administrative leave.
However, she will need to square her statements with the physical evidence—including those videos—and make a full accounting for killing Crutcher. For instance, contrary to the officer’s initial claims to investigators, it is clear from the haunting videos released by the department Monday that the police car’s windows were rolled up at the time of the shooting. She also claimed Crutcher was acting erratically and that he refused to comply with their commands. However, Crutcher can be seen in the middle of the road with his hands up, his fingers pointing to the sky above, walking slowly toward his stalled SUV.
Maybe he wanted to retrieve his license and registration, but we’ll never know because Crutcher isn’t here to tell us.
What we do know is this: Crutcher made no sudden movements. At no time did he produce a weapon of any kind or threaten the officers. No gun was found on his person or in his vehicle.
What we do know is the horror that unfolded Friday night in Tulsa cannot be undone. Four children lost their father and no investigation, no matter how rigorous, will bring him back.
If you are looking for a “perfect victim,” you won’t find it here. Crutcher had previous convictions for drugs and petty larceny, and police now say that they found drugs in his vehicle that night. But Crutcher was not suspected of having done anything wrong at the time of his death. Responding officers had no probable cause to search, arrest, or even demand identification from him.
And that matters.
If Crutcher’s civil liberties do not remain intact, neither do yours or mine. Injustice is injustice, no matter who it touches or who they were. No previous arrest justifies a death sentence. He was entitled to his life—his pursuit of happiness—and that was stolen.
Someone should answer for that.