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Man fatally shot by Tulsa police was unarmed, chief says, as 'disturbing' video is released

  • Author: Peter Holley, Wesley Lowery, The Washington Post
  • Updated: September 19, 2016
  • Published September 19, 2016

Tulsa, Oklahoma, police released video footage Monday that shows a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man – footage that the city's police chief called "very disturbing."

"It's very difficult to watch," Police Chief Chuck Jordan said at a news conference Monday. "The first time I watched it I watched it with the family . . . we will do the right thing, we will not cover anything up."

Jordan said investigators never found a weapon on Terence Crutcher or in his vehicle after the 40-year-old was shot and killed Friday as he stood beside his stalled SUV.

Crutcher died in a hospital later that evening.

Police spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie had earlier told reporters that two officers were walking toward the stalled SUV when Crutcher approached them from the side of the road.

"He refused to follow commands given by the officers," MacKenzie said. "They continued to talk to him; he continued not to listen and follow any commands. As they got closer to the vehicle, he reached inside the vehicle and at that time there was a Taser deployment, and a short time later there was one shot fired."

U.S. Attorney Danny Williams has announced that the Justice Department has opened an independent investigation into the shooting.

The footage is the latest in a series of controversial videos showing white police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men, and promises to add a new chapter to an already bitter and divisive debate about race and policing in America.

Crutcher is one of at least 680 people – 161 of them black men – who have been shot and killed by police officers this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking police shootings.

As has been the case in city after city following fatal police shootings, local officials called for calm and promised transparency in the hopes of preempting civil unrest.

"Please maintain the peace," Jordan urged.

The chief released few details about the shooting Monday, but said that officers discovered an SUV running in the middle of the road with its doors open. He said that officers then encountered Crutcher, who the officers claim did not comply with their demands and appeared to reach into the vehicle.

Video shows Crutcher walking toward his vehicle with his hands above his head while several officers follow closely behind him with weapons raised. He lingers at his vehicle's driver's side window, his body facing the SUV, before slumping to the ground a second later.

"Shots fired!" a female voice can be heard yelling.

Based on the video alone, it appears unclear who fired the fatal shot or why it was fired.

After Crutcher is hit, footage shows his limp and bloodied body lying on the roadway beside his vehicle. Officers appear to wait more than a minute before approaching Crutcher while he bleeds in the street.

On Sunday, police released the names of the officers involved. Officer Betty Shelby, who has been with the force since 2011, fired her service weapon, and officer Tyler Turnbough, who was hired in 2009, deployed his Taser, police said. Both officers were placed on administrative leave with pay.

Police showed the video to Crutcher's family Sunday afternoon, and then o a group of local community leaders and ministers.

The Crutcher family and their attorneys were particularly angered by audio recordings of the responding officers, in which one officer allegedly describes Crutcher as a "big bad dude."

"We're truly devastated. The entire family is devastated," said Tiffany Crutcher, the slain man's twin sister. "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."

Crutcher said her family's demand is for the "incompetent" officer who killed her brother to be charged immediately.

She recalled celebrating her and her brother's recent 40th birthday, on Aug. 16. On that day, Crutcher texted her to promise that he would complete his community college classes.

"I have his text message, and it said: I'm going to show you. I'm going to make you all proud," she said. "And now he'll never get that chance."

"It was reported that Terence died at the hospital, that is not true," said Demario Solomon Simmons, one of the attorneys for Crutcher's family. "Terence died on that street by himself."

Ray Owens, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, was one of the the ministers shown the video before its public release and said the images were even worse than expected.

"I didn't expect the video to be this troubling, but it is troubling," Owens said. "The officer who shot and killed Terence said he refused to show his hands. The video footage, however, shows him with hands in the air, he walks away from the police at a slow pace, leans against the car, and that is when he was shot."

Owens said that the group of leaders gathered in the room were shocked by what they had seen, especially because it appeared that officers did not render aid to the dying man for more than a minute after he was shot.

"We asked questions of the police officers and the chief of police, who was there," Owens said. "And there didn't seem to be a real good explanation for why police would not have rendered medical aid for so long."

"He needed help, he needed a hand. And what he got was a bullet in the lungs," said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who has represented the families of the slain in many high-profile police shootings.

Crump compared the shooting to that of Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina and Corey Jones in Florida, both cases which began with a black man having his car break down only to end up shot dead by an officer.

"What was Terence Crutcher's crime?" Crump asked. "When unarmed people of color break down on the side of the road, we're not treated as citizens needing help, we're treated as criminals, as suspects."

For Tulsa, Friday's shooting is the second time in as many years that the police have been involved in a controversial, high-profile shooting that was captured on video. This year, 74-year-old Robert Bates, a wealthy insurance executive who was a reserve Tulsa deputy, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter by a jury after he was caught on camera killing an unarmed black man fleeing police.

In April, jurors only needed three hours to find Bates guilty. His lawyer blamed "negative press" for the verdict.

The insurance executive had pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Eric Harris, the unarmed black man he shot and killed during an undercover operation April 2, 2015. Moments after shooting Harris, Bates could be heard on camera claiming that he shot Harris after mistakenly reaching for his gun instead of his taser at the end of a foot race.

According to the Tulsa World, Bates's lawyer called a psychiatrist to testify that Bates "mistakenly shooting Harris was reasonable given the stress of the situation, and before closing arguments jurors were instructed on the statutory requirements for 'excusable homicide.' " Jurors didn't buy the argument, agreeing with prosecutors after the 1 1/2-week trial that Bates was guilty of criminal negligence.

Andre Harris, the brother of the slain man, said four years in prison would "teach [Bates] a lesson," the newspaper reported. "That place ain't that nice," Andre Harris told reporters. "He said he hopes Bates learns that all lives matter, and he said Bates should not have been on a drug task force chasing supposedly deadly criminals," the newspaper reported. "Not at 73."

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