(Update @4:30 p.m. CDT on 9/22/16 -- Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. In a New York Times article published roughly 20 minutes ago, Tulsa County DA Steve Kunzweiler said: "Although she is charged, she is presumed innocent until a judge or jury determines otherwise. I don’t know why things happen in this world the way they do.” Will federal civil-rights charges be next? We recently had such a case in Alabama. Here is a link to our six-part series about the issues that arose in the case of Officer Eric Parker and Sureshbhai Patel. A link in the first paragraph goes to the full series. A similar case is likely to unfold in Oklahoma.)
|The shooting of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa cops|
In the two-plus years since police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, America's news pages have been filled with stories of cops gunning down or otherwise abusing citizens, leaving a trail of death and serious injury in their wake. But no case might be more sickening than the shooting last Friday of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma
. Some have called it an "execution"; others have called it "cold-blooded murder." Police admit that Crutcher had no weapon in his possession, and he is seen on video walking toward his vehicle with his hands in the air. A few moments later, he is lying in the street with blood pouring from a chest wound
, courtesy of officer Betty Shelby.
What is most disturbing about this case? Given the horror of it all, that's hard to say, but this jumps out to us: Terence Crutcher was not part of any crime, no call of a crime involving him had even been called in. Tulsa police reportedly had received an unrelated domestic-violence call
and were on the way to check on that when they came across Terence Crutcher's vehicle stalled in the road. Next thing you know, Mr. Crutcher was lying on the pavement next to his vehicle, dying from a chest wound.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, calling the Crutcher killing "unbearable" and saying it needs to be "intolerable," plans to develop national standards to prevent police shootings. Clinton pointed to systemic racism as part of the issue, and we certainly agree with that. But my wife, Carol, and I know from first-hand experience that cops can abuse white people, too.
I was beaten up in my own garage, doused with pepper spray, and dragged off for a five-month stay in an Alabama jail
-- all by an officer who never said he had a warrant, never showed a warrant, and never even stated his reason for being on our property. During an unlawful eviction in Springfield, Missouri, officers told Carol she could enter our apartment to gather belongings, But Carol had been able to gather only one handful of items when an officer slammed her to the ground and yanked on her limbs so viciously that her left arm was snapped in two
-- all during an eviction that, by law, was stayed because we had timely filed a notice of appeal. Terence Crutcher wound up dead because his car conked out.
We see two deeply troubling issues running through all three of these cases:
(1) Police officers start issuing inappropriate commands in situations where no commands, of any kind, are called for;
In my case, Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins tried to cut me off with his vehicle from driving into my own garage. When that failed, Blevins walked inside the garage as I was exiting our vehicle and preparing to lower the garage door. "Why don't you step outside?" he said. Knowing Blevins had stated no reason for his presence on our property, I said, "Why don't you get out of my garage?" I soon was violently being pushed three times to a concrete floor and doused with pepper spray.
(For the record, I have not studied the possible effects of pepper spray on human eyeballs, but mine were filled with the stuff that night. With the Shelby County Jail about 25-30 miles away in Columbiana -- and with Officer Blevins writing his report while I sat in the back seat of a squad car -- I had a heavy dose of pepper spray in my eyes probably for more than two hours. It stayed there until I was stripped and told to enter a decontamination shower at the jail. My eyes and my vision have not been the same since that incident. Even with my glasses on now, my vision is blurry, and I'm struggling to see the computer screen, and my eyes frequently get dry and sore.)
Did I have reason to follow any of Blevins' commands? Well, he violated Alabama law the moment he stepped into our home
without stating his purpose for being there. (See Livingston v. Browder, 285 So. 2d 923, Ala. Civ. App., 1973.
) Without stating his purpose for being there, and without showing a warrant or making any reference to a warrant, Blevins gave me no reason to believe he had grounds for issuing commands.
In Carol's case, I was sitting right next to her when an officer said she could enter the apartment to retrieve belongings, and when she was done, I could do the same. Carol had brought out a handful of items in one trip and was about to return when three cops surrounded her, and one brutalized her. I still don't know why he did it, and whether he was high on some substance at the time
. He certainly acted like he was juiced on something. But I do know that cops on the scene seemed to be making up rules as they went along, even though they had no lawful grounds to be conducting an eviction that, by law, had been stayed.
As for Terence Crutcher, he can be seen on video holding his hands in the air so he appears to be obeying an officer's command. And yet, officers claimed he would not obey commands. Here is the bigger question: Why were officers issuing commands, treating Crutcher as a criminal, when they had no probable cause to believe he was involved in a crime. Heck, his vehicle had just broken down, and they could have determined that -- and perhaps offered assistance -- with one simple question.
(2) Officers immediately tend to lie upon realizing they have stepped in doo-doo
In my case, Blevins says in his incident report that he had two warrants for my arrest on contempt of court charges, but he never showed them to me and never said anything about them to me. (That's probably because, even if he had the warrants, he knew I had filed a motion challenging service, and there had been no ruling on that. Since plaintiffs' Rob Riley and Liberty Duke had not met their burden of proving service was conducted lawfully, the court had no authority over me -- and any warrant Blevins had -- was meaningless. My guess is that Blevins had no warrant because he -- or someone in his chain of command -- knew it would be pointless to have one. They just wanted me locked up and did not care how it was done.)
Unbelievably, I was charged with resisting arrest
, and a judge at that trial told Blevins and prosecutor Tonya Willingham to produce copies of any warrants. They said they didn't have any
. My conclusion: Blevins lied about having a warrant. (Note: I didn't do any of the things that, by law, define resisting arrest in Alabama
. In fact, Blevins did not even allege that I engaged in such actions. Also, you cannot resist an arrest that is unlawful to begin with
In Carol's case, Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was standing about five feet away as her arm was being broken and promptly declared that she had "assaulted a police officer."
Based on Arnott's blatant lies
, Carol was handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, and transported to the Greene County Jail. She probably would have been booked in, charged with a felony, and hit with a high bond had someone not noticed that she was in severe pain, and both of her arms were a deep purple. In other words, she was the victim of an assault, not the perpetrator of one.
In the Crutcher case, officers described him as appearing to be on drugs and claimed they had found PCP in his vehicle -- after he was already dead, of course. Does this stand the smell test? Not according to Carlos Miller
, publisher of the Photography Is Not a Crime
blog (PINAC). Writes Miller:
Shelby’s attorney is saying the shooting was justified because Crutcher was trying to reach into his car and into his pockets, but not only does the window appear closed, it is likely he was only trying to reach for his identification.
But we know that is never a guarantee you won’t be shot.
Shelby is also now claiming that she believed Crutcher was high on PCP because she had recently taken a training class that gave her expertise in drug recognition.
But she never once mentioned this to dispatch before she killed him, so we can assume she is lying.
Based on our experience, that would be a logical assumption. We also would guess that many of these deadly incidents start or escalate when cops start making commands they have no lawful grounds for making.
Here is a motto that has come to rule in our household: Cops don't resolve problems, they escalate them. If you want a problem solved, calling a cop likely will only make it worse.