When Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed first-degree manslaughter charges against Tulsa Police officer Betty Shelby for the shooting death of Terence Crutcher less than a week after he was shot, he did so before the investigation was complete.
The lead detective on the Terence Crutcher officer-involved shooting death says he’s still working on his investigation, hours after the Tulsa County district attorney filed a first-degree manslaughter charge against Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
Homicide detective Sgt. Dave Walker told 2 Works for You he expects to finish his report on Friday. He said it’s unusual for the district attorney’s office to file charges without his completed report, and that this is the first time he’s seen it happen.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said it’s not unusual for his office to file charges before law enforcement agencies complete their investigations. He pointed to the second-degree manslaughter case against former Tulsa County Sheriff’s volunteer deputy Robert Bates as an example of cases filed by his office prior to police submitting their report and recommendations. The probable cause affidavit in that case was also signed by the DA’s chief investigator.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department investigated Bates’ fatal shooting of Eric Harris in April of 2015. Bates is serving a four-year sentence after his conviction a year later.
“Sgt. Walker did an incredible job investigating [the case] and he provided me with all of the necessary information I needed to make my charging decision,” Kunzweiler said, adding that Chief Investigator Doug Campbell relied on information and recordings from Tulsa police as part of the probable cause affidavit.
Kunzweiler said he expects to receive supplemental information from police, but nothing that would alter his decision to charge.
In a press conference on Monday , Kunzweiler and other local officials vowed transparency and justice in the case, and urged the public to be patient, to remain peaceful and to allow the legal process to work.
“Many people may want to have an outcome within a hairsbreadth,” said Kunzweiler on Monday, “it’s my responsibility to make sure that the facts fit the law. And I will do that.”
If Kunzweiler wanted to “make sure the facts fit the law,” wouldn’t it make sense to wait until Homicide detective Sgt. Dave Walker actually finished his investigation?
Instead, Kunzweiler seems to have rushed to charge Officer Betty Shelby before the police investigation was complete, and before Terence Crutcher’s toxicology report is complete… and perhaps most importantly, before the weekend, where mass demonstrations and possible riots could have erupted.
In fact, Kunzweiler apparently made his charging decision as Black Lives Matter supporters stood in front of a Tulsa Police Department station and said that, “the only good white man is a dead white man.”
Pardon me for being cynical, but Kunzweiler’s decision to hastily file a first-degree manslaughter charge against Officer Betty Shelby seems driven more by political fears of rioting, murder, looting, and arson, than it does any concern for actual justice.
Even more disturbing is the apparent lack of evidence of a crime by Officer Shelby in the affidavit filed by Kunzweiler’s Chief Investigator Doug Campbell.
Chief Investigator Campbell admits that both Officer Shelby and Officer Tyler Turnbough saw a completely non-compliant Terence Crutcher reach into the driver’s side front window of the SUV with his left hand.
This action prompted both officers to discharge their weapons at the same time, intentionally.
This seems entirely rational, as law enforcement officers are trained to not let a combative or non-compliant suspect reach into a vehicle because of the very real possibility they could be going for a weapon as officers learn in police academies around the nation from the chilling murder of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller.
Officers in many departments go through simulators where they face a very similar set of circumstances, and where letting a noncompliant suspect reaching into or behind a vehicle or into a home leads to their “death” if they do not fire when a suspect reaches.
At that point, when a repeatedly non-compliant suspect reaches for something—anything—time for talking is over. An officer either fires his gun and the suspect may be seriously injured or killed, or the suspect may seriously injure or kill the officer.
Below is an excellent example of the kind of scenario we’re talking about.
In the video above, community organizer and police critic Jarrett Maupin went through a series of three relatively standard force-on-force scenarios.
In first scenario, Muapin plays the role of an officer called to investigate a suspicious man casing vehicles for possible burglary. When Maupin approaches, the man refused to listen to him, walks to the back of the vehicle, and reaches behind it.
The reporter covering the story did not seen Maupin run this scenario, and went through it himself.
He also “died.”
But Tulsa Police Department officer Betty Shelby wasn’t a civilian playing through a scripted use-of-force scenario with no real stakes.
Shelby is a veteran officer and expert in recognizing the signs of PCP intoxication, which is why she wanted to take Terence Crutcher into custody. It’s also why she called in so many backup units, knowing that people suspected of being on PCP are incredibly unpredictable and dangerous.
Shelby’s judgement is sound enough and procedural knowledge is good enough that they made her a field training officer, to teach other Tulsa Police Department officers how to do their jobs. Her decision to fire on Terence Crutcher comports with training to fire on a non-compliant suspect reaching into a vehicle where they could be attempting to grab a weapon.
Quite frankly, Campbell’s snide assertion that Officer Shelby became “emotionally involved to the point she over reacted” seems unwarranted, and more than a little sexist. She seems to have followed her training in a no-win scenario dictated by the actions of a serial felon and PCP addict who made the fatal mistake of reaching into a vehicle, a scenario under which most police officers would discharge their weapons.
This is looking more and more like a politically-motivated show trial calculated to avoid riots than it does an attempt to find justice.
I hope that prosecutor
Mike Nifong Steve Kunzweiler is better than that, but at this point, I have strong doubts.