Thursday, September 22, 2016

Killing of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, OK, shows the ability of law enforcement to escalate problems, not solve them -- and to lie flagrantly in the process

The shooting of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa cops
(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.)

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.


Anonymous said...

I think someone is going to prison for the Crutcher killing. All of these brutality cases are awful, but that one in Tulsa is off the charts.

Anonymous said...

Stories about the Tulsa shooting have reported that Crutcher would not communicate with the officer. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with this, but I don't see where Crutcher had an obligation to communicate with the female officer. She apparently gave no indication that a crime was involved, so why talk with her. I could see how a black man in today's environment might choose to take that approach.

legalschnauzer said...

Before my own experience with cops, I probably would have disagreed with you, @12:52. But I absolutely agree with you now. I tried over and over to reason with the Missouri cops -- telling them the eviction was stayed by our notice of appeal, and they had no grounds to be there -- and Sheriff Arnott just kept shrugging his shoulders and turning his palms upward. It was like trying to communicate with a tree stump. I would have tried to reason with the Alabama cop, but I could only get out the words "Why don't you get out of my garage" before he was on me.

Bottom line: I tried communicating with cops, and it did not work. I see no reason why it would have worked with Terence Crutcher.

Anonymous said...

Roger, I'm concerned about your eyes and vision. I had not read before how long the pepper spray was in your eyes. Like you, I don't know what science says about the hazards of pepper spray, but it can't be good to have it in your eyes that long. I don't think it's as harmless as cops would like us to believe. Hope you can get your eyes checked soon.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks, @1:12, I'm concerned, too. Maybe I haven't described it well enough because I'm not sure even Carol realizes just how much of the stuff was sprayed on me. I was drenched with it, from head to toe. Carol was hoping maybe my glasses helped protect my eyes, but I told her Blevins sprayed it directly into my eyes, with such a heavy dose that my glasses offered zero protection. On top of that, my glasses were covered with the stuff when I got to the jail and I never was able to clean them well for the five months I was incarcerated. My glasses probably still have traces of pepper spray on them. People don't realize that, when you are in jail, you have none of the things you take for granted at home. I had no kind of soft cloth to clean my glasses, nothing that wouldn't have scratched them all to heck -- and I had just gotten an eye exam and new glasses not long before I was arrested. In jail, I didn't even have an undershirt to wipe them with.

Anonymous said...

A big problem, I think, is that police departments tend to hire a lot of people with hot heads and poor communication skills. They also tend to have contempt for people they see as different from them.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schnauzer, you seriously don't think you would have been better off trying to communicate with the officers in your situation?

legalschnauzer said...

Well, as I stated at @12:57, I did try to communicate with officers, both in Missouri and Alabama. The officers in Missouri gave no indication that they knew applicable eviction law, or that they cared what it said. The officer in Alabama gave no indication that he knew (or cared) about my rights to have him state the purpose for his visit. He also offered no evidence or verbal statements that suggested he had any court documents that gave him authority to even be on my property, much less order me out of my own home.

When's the last time you've tried to communicate with a police officer? I, unfortunately, have tried to do it a number of times in recent years, and every officer has been inarticulate, disinterested, rude, ignorant, violent, or some combination of all that.

My point is that I can understand why Terence Crutcher might not have communicated with the Tulsa officers. I tried, and it did me no good in Alabama. Perhaps he had tried before and had a similar experience. Perhaps, as a black man, he just didn't want any part of them -- and if that was the case, I wouldn't blame him.

Anonymous said...

Colin Kaepernick is looking more and more like a visionary and a very courageous guy. I guess the Crutcher case will only prompt yahoos to send him more death threats.

Anonymous said...

She's now been charged with 1st degree manslaughter. Should be interesting to watch this court case play out. My guess is that we will actually see a conviction in this case. Too cut and dry, but you never know.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing that update, @3:50, and yes, it will be interesting to watch. The manslaughter case likely is being brought in state court. Makes me wonder if feds will bring a criminal civil-rights case against one or more officers. We saw that happen in Alabama with the case of Officer Eric Parker and Sureshbhai Patel, the grandfather from India. We recently finished a six-part series on how the Parker/Patel case was butchered in federal court, especially after two Alabama juries could not reach a verdict. For folks who want to get a feel for the kind of issues that might arise in a federal case against Officer Shelby in OK, here is a URL to our most recent article on Parker/Patel, and it includes a link in first paragraph to all six parts in the series:

legalschnauzer said...

Here is URL to NY Times article, posted just a few minutes ago, about charges brought against Officer Shelby in the Terence Crutcher case:

Anonymous said...

People question the Colin Kaepernick protest, and those the past two nights in Charlotte, but I ask this question: Would the DA in Tulsa have acted so quickly, if at all, without those protests -- if the world had gone on acting like nobody cares.

Kaepernick showed that somebody cares, and if this issued gets addressed, I think he will deserve a lot of credit.

Anonymous said...

So much of what has happened to you and Carol has been like a precursor to these crazy events on the streets across the nation. When I read about you being thrown in jail for writing a blog, I thought, "This is crazy, it can't be happening." Now we have this man in Tulsa shot by a cop while he had his hands in the air (or shortly after having his hands in the air), and I say, "This is crazy, it can't be happening."

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for a profound comment @5:04. You even could go back farther and make the argument that the Don Siegelman case was a precursor to all of this. That showed that our justice system was seriously screwed up, that fundamental due process and equal protection rights were not respected in the courtroom, and now you have officers depriving people of their very lives in situations that are not even criminal, much less seriously criminal. I don't know why this is happening right now, but I don't think events happen in a vacuum. People have gotten careless with, and uncaring about, the abusive treatment of others, and that is reflected in our police forces -- where racism, anger, hotheadedness, and tendencies toward violence probably are greater than in the population as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Thank God these charges were brought. I hope it becomes known whether Tulsa PD planted PCP in vehicle or not.

Anonymous said...

"This is crazy, it can't be happening." With all due respect @ 5:04 PM, why do think Harvard Law School's study ranked Alabama #1 out of all the 50 states; if, you really do not know, as is commonly believed, any Alabamian has to look no further than to any major media [newspaper, radio, television] outlets; or political analysis/reporters, after all, they have all been delivered fact based documentations far exceeding current discussions, yet run from opportunities to make known to public. Some of the very same, state's most highly profiled reporters on state government has refused for years to touch stories that would cause the hue and cries within the general populous to be stilled. And the reason Shuler was allowed to have done to him what happened simply because of the silences and inactions of ALL THOSE ASSERTING TO BE HIS AND CAROL'S FRIENDS; those in the northeast media markets and west coast media markets have never heard of a journalist "political prisoner" in Alabama for exercising his Freedom of Speech. LIKEWISE THE CORRUPTION INVOLVED BEHIND THE ILLEGAL FEDERAL IMPRISONMENT OF ALABAMA GOVERNOR DON SIEGELMAN. ALABAMA FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE ESTABLISHED AS A STATE HAS THE OBLIGATION TO PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN THE 2016 ELECTION AND BEYOND, WSPECIALLY WHEN INVOLVING SUPREME COURT NOMINEES, and fiddles while our nation continues to edge towards an unrecovered abyss of "we the people's" corruption. Enough said!

Robby Scott Hill said...

Fuck all these lawyer, cop & news outlet assholes who say you're not a journalist Roger. You had the best goddamn sports column in the Post Herald when I was a kid back in the 1980s. Some of these kids who think they are fucking their way to the top weren't even born when you were writing quality copy. They are blissfully unaware of all the pretty little news gals & female cops & lawyers who disappeared or were found floating the river before they were born when they became liabilities to the men they were sleeping with. Just recently, a female attorney at one large Birmingham firm has gone missing after her empty car was found in South Carolina. Several of Alabama's big firm lawyers disappear like that every decade. We try to warn them these politicians & executives aren't their friends & they will eventually turn on them after they've served their usefulness.

Robby Scott Hill said...

I really feel sorry for some of the people who have done things to us & continue to do things to others at the behest of these state officials, because they're going to wind up in the river or victims of "a random act of violence" or a plane crash. The worst air disaster in Birmingham history had a trial lawyer on board. Most plane crashes do & most aren't accidents like the media claims they are. Ever notice how they used to call them "air disasters" & over the years, the language has migrated toward "accident." The CIA has carefully trained their media assets to use language that distorts public perception in favor of the government's interests. Very few news outlets are saying "here's the facts we know," now go make up your own mind anymore. The power of persuasion is used from the get go. It's always, "She committed suicide or lost control of her vehicle." & never "after ending her decade long affair with the nominee for Governor, she was found locked inside her car at the bottom the river after her brakes failed after they were serviced by the nominee's brother in law's garage." You never get the whole fucking truth anymore & the family always gets a quiet payoff to stay silent. The kids go to law school courtesy of some powerful interests & the cycle continues. The system pays people to keep their mouth's shut.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing your insights, Rob. Who is the missing female lawyer from Bham? Would like to learn more about that case.

This might sound like a bizarre idea, but given the environment in Alabama, I don't think it's far-fetched (at least by my standards): Is it possible the Alabama State Bar has a hit squad to bring out every now and then on a lawyer who takes a case he wasn't supposed to take, or doesn't take a case he was supposed to take, or actually tries to achieve justice for a client who was supposed to be denied justice?

I think a lot of our legal corruption is tied to discovery because that's where the rubber really meets the road in a lawsuit, where facts are supposed to be "discovered." God only knows how many times judges unlawfully shut down or limit discovery because sensitive facts will be unearthed. If a lawyer does not go along, I suspect the Alabama State Bar becomes concerned. The bar will protect the Bill Swateks of the world, but harass (or worse) a lawyer who actually is trying to do his job.

Anonymous said...

So very tired of these cops! Stay after them. This is a story that deserves so much more attention than it has received. We are the average white citizens that are left holding the bags for these poor cowardly decisions that these cowards are making. A badge doesn't make you a god.

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating Roger that you think you are so important that the "Alabama Gang" is now chasing you across the country and turning your local police and landlord against you. A sure sign of parnoia is when a person refuses to acknowledge that any of his bad luck or experiences were caused by his own actions and that people are out to get him. What is next, Roger? You blaming a Riley conspiracy for your vacuum cleaner tearing up? So sad. You probably did get a raw deal in Shelby County. They do run it like a banana republic but all you had to do was to accept service of the papers. That is all you had to do. Just accept the papers and get on with life.

Oh yeah, the guy in Tulsa will test positive for mind altering drugs and YES, if you park your car in the middle of the street and impede traffic and yell at others that your car is going to blow up and they call the police, YOU MIGHT WANT TO TALK TO THE POLICE when they roll up en route to their original call.

Anonymous said...

Roger, you are a bozo. Since the police officer didn't say on the radio that she thought he was on drugs "we can assume she was lying". Really.
For the record, radio air time is precious. That is why codes were developed. You don't yap and talk on public safety radios like a nextel or cell phone. So an officer doesn't say on the radio that a DUI driver is crossing the center line then we assume he lied? An officer sees a man slap a woman in a parking lot and arrest him but since he didn't state that on the radio he is a liar. You are a sick man. I love how your self inflated ego allows you to link your pitiful situation to other much more famous cases around the country. I'm not a Riley fan by no means but you sir are a crazy ass, semi-paranoid, and entertaining gadfly. Truth be known, we need more like you but you would be more credible if you dropped the The World Versus Roger mindset.

legalschnauzer said...

You are all over the place, @6:44. (Same with @6:59.) I've read each of your comments three times, and I have no idea what point you are trying to make. If you want to express yourself with some clarity, perhaps you should try it verbally. My number is (205) 381-5673.