We should all be Okies from Muskogee.
From that small Oklahoma town comes an example for the entire country on how a police department should conduct itself, starting with equipping its officers with body cameras and following through with a promise to be as transparent as possible in the wake of a fatal cop involved shooting.
The value of the Muskogee approach was proven on Jan. 17, after Pastor Andre Jones of the Old Agency Baptist Church called 911 to say that he had been conducting a wedding when a woman came in to say that a man was threating to kill her.
“He’s here with a gun,” the pastor told the dispatcher. “I need a police officer because I got to stop this. There’s a whole lot of people here and I don’t need nobody hurt.”
Two minutes later, Police Officer Chansey McMillin pulled into the church parking lot. The body camera, which Muskogee has equipped its officers with since November was running.
The video shows McMillin approach a man with short dreadlocks and shorts, fitting the description that had been provided by the pastor in the 911 call. The man has his hands in the pockets of his white jacket.
The audio is as clear as the images.
“Sir, do me a favor, take your hands out of your pockets for me,” McMillin says in an even, professional tone. “Take your hands out of your pockets.”
The man, later identified as 21 year-old Terrence Walker, complies, his right hand coming out holding a cell phone that he transfers to his left.
“Okay, I’m going to pat you down for weapons,” McMillin says. “You got anything that’s going to hurt me?”
McMillin moves to begin the search. He notes that Walker is tense.
“Hey, just relax for me,” McMillin says, “Relax, Why you shaking for?”
“Because,” Walker says.
“Relax,” McMillin says.
Walker suddenly whirls, elbows McMillin and bolts from the parking lot. McMillin gives chase, the sound of the jostling of the camera and the wind obscuring his radio transmission that he is pursuing the suspect.
“Northbound,” McMillin seems to say.
The body camera footage becomes spookily like a first person shooter video game as McMillin draws his own gun. You see what the cop sees.
Walker drops what appears on close examination and multiple viewings to be a gun. He crouches to retrieve it and drops it again. He is facing towards McMillin as he comes up with it in his right hand.
At that instant, McMillin fires the first shot, immediately followed by four more. The last come before McMillin has the time to register that Walker has turned away from him. Walker goes down, rolling into a roadside culvert.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” McMillin shouts into his radio.
McMillin keeps his gun on Walker as he waits for back-up. The pastor, Jones, approaches.
“Don’t shoot, officer, don’t shoot no more, please I’m the pastor!!” Jones cries. “Don’t shoot no more, officer.”
“Get back!” McMillin orders. “Get back!”
“Let me check on him! Let me check on him!” Jones says.
“Get back, sir,” McMillin says again.
“Oh my God, let me check on him!” Jones says.
“Get back, sir,” McMillin says yet again.
“I’m the pastor, let me check on him, please!” Jones says.
“Get back sir, he has a gun!” McMillin says.
A man can be heard saying, “He don’t have no gun.”
Backup officers arrive moments later.
“Suspect’s been shot,” McMillin tells them. “He’s got a gun.”
One of the other cops kneels by the motionless, silent Walker and secures his right hand. The cop then pulls what is indeed a silver automatic pistol from under Walker and tosses it on the grassy bank of the culvert, where it lies, its hammer cocked.
Walker’s blood is staining the culvert water as the cop rolls him back to check for signs of life. Walker has died less than a minute after McMillin approached him in the parking lot.
McMillin retrieves the silver automatic from the bank.
“Someone secure this weapon,” McMillin says.
Another cop takes the gun.
“Is it loaded?” McMillin asks.
“Yes, the hammer’s cocked on it,” the other cop says.
McMillin—who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star—asks a question about Walker that maybe nobody can answer.
“Why did he have to do that?”
Pastor Jones comes closer and speaks to the others about McMillin.
“He followed procedure,” Jones says, adding, “I’m the pastor. I called it in.”
The police department convened a meeting with Jones and various other pastors at the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. Community Center in Muskogee. The cops pledged to be as forthright as possible and over the following week showed the body camera video to Walkers’ family as well as the pastors, inviting everybody to ask any questions they might have.
“They showed confidence in us,” Muskogee Police Sgt. Michael Mahan says of the community, “and in return we wanted to show them we’re being very open and transparent.”
The cops even produced a PowerPoint presentation, complete with sequential stills from the video and answers to likely questions.
Q: “Why did Officer McMillin fire five shots when it looks like the last two or three were after the suspect was facing completely away from Officer McMillin?
A: “The suspect’s rapid movements were a critical factor causing the suspect to be shot from behind. When an officer shoots at a moving suspect, his aim is at something that occurred in the past, which can make a tremendous difference in where the bullet strikes. All five of Officer McMillin’s shots were fired in less than 1.3 seconds. The average reaction time in a non-stress situation for an officer to decide to fire an already unholstered gun is about ¼ of a second to ½ a second. The same amount of time is required for your brain to send a message to tell your trigger finger to stop firing. This accounts for the last two or three shots Officer McMillin fired. This factor is especially critical to the analysis in this case since the shooting occurred in a tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving manner. It is well documented in human factors studies that stress increases reaction and perception times.”
Q: “What facts in this case would justify the use of deadly force?”
A:”Once Officer McMillin saw the gun fall on the ground and the suspect stopped to retrieve it, and then pointed it towards him, the officer was justified in using deadly force to defend himself, and the other citizens who were in the immediate area. Based on the information he had from the dispatcher about the suspect, in conjunction with the suspect’s actions, the suspect posed an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to any officer or citizen he came into contact with”.
On Friday, the department released the PowerPoint and a recording of the pastor’s 911 call, along with the full body camera video. The footage was accompanied by what the police termed “a list of considerations,” noting, among other things, that witnesses report that Walker had told the woman he had a bullet “with her name on it.”
The list of concerns further notes:
“Initial indications by some witnesses that the suspect dropped his cell phone are contradicted by the video which shows the suspect placing the cell phone in his left hand and fleeing with it. The video shows that the item dropped and recovered by the suspect at the scene was in the suspect’s right hand and appears to be the gun. The video clearly shows that the gun was recovered in very close proximity to the suspect and shows the hammer cocked and a bullet in the chamber.”
The list adds, “The suspect made a conscious decision to stop and pick up the gun after having dropped it. The suspect made the decision to re-arm himself and subsequently point the gun in a threatening manner towards the officer. … If the suspect were to have fired the gun, the bullet would have been fired in the direction of the officer, multiple bystanders, and toward the direction of oncoming traffic and a residential area.”
Anybody who doubts this account is free to study the video, which the Muskogee Police Department has released for all of us watch and study and judge for ourselves.
“This may sound crazy from a little town in Oklahoma, but we’re trying to set an example for the nation,” Mahan said.