The father of Terence Crutcher told an attorney last week that his family recognized his late son’s common-law marriage and that the couple’s children should be with their mother, statements that appear to conflict with claims in a petition filed by his attorneys Monday.
The tape-recorded statements by the Rev. Joey Crutcher were provided to The Frontier and other media organizations by attorney Dan Smolen, who represents Terence Crutcher’s widow.
Joey and Leanne Crutcher are seeking to remove Frenchel Johnson as administrator of her husband’s estate. A judge appointed Johnson as administrator last week and the Crutchers’ motion seeks to rescind that order and appoint them instead.
Attorneys for the Crutchers could not be reached Tuesday to comment for this story. They declined to answer questions Monday and refered The Frontier to the newly filed motion.
Terence Crutcher, 40, was fatally shot by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby on Sept. 16. Video captured by a police helicopter shows Crutcher slowly walking away from Shelby with his hands up toward his SUV before he was shot.
Prosecutors have charged Shelby with first-degree manslaughter and an affidavit says she “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation.”
The motion filed by Crutcher’s parents calls Johnson “ineligible and incompetent” and claims that Terence Crutcher’s parents have legal custody of their three minor children. The motion gives several reasons a judge should appoint the Crutchers as administrators, including challenging the couple’s marital status.
Johnson and Crutcher lived together for 16 years and the couple had three children together. Oklahoma is one of the few states that make “common-law” marriage legally equivalent to traditional marriage. Courts have generally interpreted that to mean the couple lives together, presents themselves as married, own property together and the community considers them married.
“Terence Crutcher was not married to Ms. Frenchel Johnson, and Ms. Johnson is not
his widow. There was neither a ceremonial nor a common law marriage, and no marriage license,” says the motion. It was filed in Tulsa County District Court on Monday by attorneys at the Riggs Abney law firm on behalf of Joey and Leanne Crutcher.
In a conversation Friday at the office of Johnson’s attorney, Dan Smolen, Joey Crutcher called Johnson his daughter-in-law. Joey Crutcher says on the tape that he requested the meeting, which also included his wife, Johnson and a friend of Johnson’s.
“They are married .… This has been his wife for 15 years and we recognize her as our daughter-in-law,” Joey Crutcher said.
After the motion was filed Monday claiming Johnson was not Terence Crutcher’s wife, Smolen provided the recordings to The Frontier and other media outlets.
“He just wanted to come down and talk to me about my representation of Frenchel. I got the impression that he was trying to be involved as much as he could in her affairs and her case,” Smolen said.
The issue of who serves as administrator of the estate is important because only the administrator will have legal standing to file a lawsuit against the city in Crutcher’s death.
More than $165,000 has been collected in a GoFundMe account intended to benefit Terence Crutcher’s children. Attorneys for the Crutchers have not responded to requests by The Frontier seeking information about the fund.
The GoFundMe page features a photo of Frenchel Johnson, her husband and children.
However it says donations should be sent to Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s twin sister, at the Crump law firm’s address in Florida.
Crump has represented families in several high-profile police shooting cases, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.
Besides taking issue with the couple’s marital status, the motion also says Johnson failed to disclose that she is a convicted felon. The law says people convicted of an “infamous crime” aren’t eligible to serve but it’s unclear what that means.
Records show Johnson was convicted in three separate cases of driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007.
She faces an assault and battery charge stemming from a dispute with her neighbor in which Johnson allegedly brandished a knife. A police affidavit says Johnson refused to drop the knife and was Tazed during the incident.
Smolen said Johnson was on her own front porch when her neighbor came into the yard and threatened her. The charge alleges that Johnson stabbed her neighbor but the police affidavit that is the basis of the charge does not say that.
At the end of the conversation at Smolen’s office, Joey Crutcher explains why the family didn’t publicly discuss Johnson or bail her out of jail after Terence Crutcher was killed.
“I didn’t want the kids to be embarrassed about their mother locked up and I don’t want Frenchel to be embarrassed but I already talked to Crump and Demario about getting her out you know and then they said, ‘Well, we will work on that later.’”
Johnson’s friend who attended the meeting, Sherona Sellers, told The Frontier the family split is sad to watch unfold. She said she believes the Crutchers are just doing what their attorneys tell them to do and are possibly overwhelmed by the situation.
“It’s kind of unbelievable to me. … She (Johnson) is in disbelief also. She knows that Terence wouldn’t want this either.”
Sellers said she has known Frenchel Johnson for about 23 years and that she is a good mother. Joey Crutcher and his wife also helped the couple with child care and are close to their grandchildren, Smith said. Another issue in dispute involves custody of the couple’s children, ages 4, 9 and 15.
Another issue in dispute involves custody of the couple’s children, ages 4, 9 and 15. (Johnson also has a 17-year-old son that Terence Crutcher raised as his own son.)
Records show Joey Crutcher sought guardianship of the children three days after his son’s death. Johnson was in jail at the time on the pending charge and unable to post bond.
The motion states Joey and Leanne Crutcher “are the rightful and lawful persons to represent and protect the interests that Ms. Johnson’s children by Terence Crutcher have in their father’s Estate and in any wrongful-death litigation on behalf of his Estate.”
In the conversation at Smolen’s office, Joey Crutcher said the children “need their mother” and indicates he and his wife don’t want to raise them.
“Those kids they’ve been … a basket case and now all of this stuff has been happening and that’s all they been talking about was, ‘I want my mother, I want my mother, I want my mother.’ “
However at that time, the Crutchers had already obtained an emergency guardianship allowing them to take custody from Johnson.
“I want these kids and Frenchel to … live their lives and they don’t have to worry about anything because we’re old and we don’t want to worry about raising anybody’s kids,” he said.
In a Facebook post Friday, Johnson wrote: “The love that I have for my husband is unconditional. No one will ever know the pain I am feeling. I miss him so much. I wanna thank everyone for their prayers. I really appreciate it.”