Justice Dept. joins investigation after Tulsa police shoot unarmed motorist dead
“I’m going to show you,” Terence recently texted his sister. “I’m going to make you all proud.”
He never was able to follow through on that promise.
On the night of September 16, exactly one month later, Crutcher’s SUV broke down, according to his family.
After police responded to a 911 call about the vehicle, the black man found himself raising his hands high above his head. Moments later, Officer Betty Shelby fatally shot Crutcher. He was later found to be unarmed, according to authorities.
Now federal and local authorities are investigating. Crutcher’s sister has demanded that prosecutors immediately press charges against Shelby. And police videos showing the shooting are fueling mounting criticism online about the case.
Scott Wood, an attorney representing Shelby, says there’s more to the story than the videos, which show Crutcher walking with his hands up before the shooting as officers follow him.
He says Shelby thought Crutcher was retrieving a weapon from his car when she opened fire. She had yelled repeatedly that he should get down and stop walking, Wood said. But Crutcher kept going, placing his hands in his pockets, where she also feared there could be a weapon, Wood said.
‘Difficult to watch’
Three days after Crutcher’s death, the Tulsa Police Department Monday released 911 audio, dashcam videos, and a police helicopter video of the incident. Chuck Jordan, Tulsa’s chief of police, described the footage as “very disturbing and difficult to watch.”
Sometime after 7:30 p.m. September 16, dispatchers received two 911 calls. The first call came from a woman who said an abandoned vehicle was blocking a road.
“Somebody left their vehicle running in the middle of the street with their doors wide open,” the caller said. “The doors are open, the vehicle is still running. It’s an SUV. It’s in the middle of the street, it’s blocking traffic.”
The woman also told the 911 operator that “the guy was running from [the vehicle]” after explaining to her it was going to “blow up.”
Shelby, who is white, was headed to a domestic violence call when she arrived first at the scene of Crutcher’s stalled vehicle. Shelby told the dispatcher that “she’s not having cooperation” from Crutcher, according to Chief Jordan at a Monday news conference. The police chief declined to offer more information regarding the lack of cooperation Shelby faced.
When Shelby arrived, Crutcher was on the side of the road, away from his vehicle. He then approached Shelby, police said.
By the time Crutcher raised his hands, Tulsa Police officers were also flying above the scene in a helicopter, capturing the incident from an on-board camera. Footage from multiple police cameras show Crutcher walking toward his SUV in the middle of the road, hands raised, followed closely by Shelby and three other officers. They surround Crutcher, who continued to walk back to his car, where he appeared to place his hands toward the vehicle.
Circling above the scene, one police officer in the helicopter can be heard referring to Crutcher as a “bad dude,” according to audio from police footage.
Jeanne MacKenzie, Tulsa Police public information officer, said that the responding officers on the ground thought Crutcher had reached his hands into the driver’s side window of the vehicle.
Moments later, as Crutcher stands beside his car, the video shows him fall to the ground
“I think he may have just been Tasered,” an officer says over the radio.
“Shots fired!” a female officer says.
In the video, Crutcher lies in the middle of the street, motionless, soon to be dead.
‘There was no gun’
At a news conference Monday, Jordan struck a candid tone about the officer-involved shooting that left Crutcher dead.
“I’m going to tell you right here now: There was no gun on the suspect or in the suspect’s vehicle,” Jordan said.
He also confirmed that Shelby had fired one shot and Officer Tyler Turnbough had deployed his Taser.
Shelby is now on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a criminal investigation. The officer joined the police force in 2011 and had worked for the county sheriff’s department for four years before that, according to her attorney, who described her record as a clean one.
In addition, both the US Department of Justice and state authorities have launched investigations into the officer-involved shooting.
Danny C. Williams, US Attorney of the Northern District of Oklahoma, said prosecutors will attempt to determine whether a federal civil rights violation had occurred. Authorities refused to immediately answer additional questions due to the ongoing investigation.
Jack Henderson, a Tulsa council member, said that authorities would get to the bottom of what happened Friday night. In the meantime, Henderson called for Tulsa “to remain a strong city, a together city” free of the violence and conflict seen in other cities across the US.
“We’ve already got two families’ lives who will be affected forever,” Henderson said. “We don’t need some more lives to be changed this way.”
Outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, approximately two-dozen protesters held signs and photos of Crutcher, shouting chants such as “hands up, don’t shoot!” As they walked around downtown Tulsa, they demanded further transparency as well as improved training for local police.
Pastor Mario Johnson, who said he watched the dashcam video before it was made public, believes Crutcher did not deserve to die.
“Him having his hands up, walking toward his car, he was walking away from the officers. He wasn’t posing a threat in any way,” Johnson said.
According to a Crutcher family attorney, Terence was just “having some difficulty with his vehicle and that’s it.”
At a news conference Monday, Tiffany Crutcher said it was clear to her that Terence died because of a Tulsa Police officer’s “negligence and incompetency and insensitivity.”
Now, she said, charges should be pressed in order to ensure justice is served. According to his sister, that’s the least that should happen given Crutcher won’t be able to make his family proud, like he hoped to do.
“And because he was a big bad dude,” she said referring back to the police helicopter tape, “he’ll never get that chance.”
CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.