The family of Terence Crutcher on Thursday made clear that its quest for justice will not end with Wednesday’s acquittal of the Tulsa police officer who shot him dead last September.
The family, surrounded by dozens of local clergy and community leaders at a north Tulsa church, said a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tulsa will be filed soon and called on Police Chief Chuck Jordan and Mayor G.T. Bynum to fire the lead investigator in the case.
“I’m calling for you right now to terminate Sgt. Dave Walker,” said Terence Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher. “Sgt. Dave Walker, under oath, stated how he allowed (the defendant) Betty Shelby to testify or interview a little bit different than you or I.
“He was exposed. He showed how he treated her – he let her watch the video (of the shooting) before she gave an authentic statement. Would you all be allowed to do that if you were suspected of a crime? Or a murder?”
A Tulsa County jury deliberated nine hours Wednesday before finding Shelby, 43, not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in Crutcher’s death. Shelby, who is white, shot and killed Crutcher, 40, who was black, after encountering him and his SUV in the 2300 block of East 36th Street North on Sept. 16. Crutcher was not armed.
One of the themes repeated by the prosecution during the trial was that Shelby’s fellow officers knew the shooting was not proper and took steps to help present her case in the best possible light. In addition to allowing her to view the videotape of the shooting before giving a statement, she was allowed to wait three days before giving police an interview – a practice Walker acknowledged is not afforded civilians charged with a crime.
At an impromptu news conference Thursday afternoon, Walker denied giving Shelby preferential treatment.
“The chief of police or mayor could fire me, but I have no intention of leaving,” Walker said.
Shelby didn’t get preferential treatment following the shooting because she was an officer, Walker said. Police Department policy mandated Shelby had the right to see any existing video before the interview. Though Shelby didn’t ask to see the video, “it was just given” that’s what would happen, he said.
“My quest it to get to the truth, and if showing her the video gets me there, then I don’t have an issue with it,” Walker said.
Waiting three days before the interview, however, is not mandated through policy, Walker said.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, representing the Crutcher family, said he has always told the Crutchers that the road to “full justice” would be a marathon.
“We got the arrest, let’s not forget,” he said from the sanctuary of the Morning Star Baptist Church, a banner reading “Justice 4 Crutch” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” hanging behind him. “We got the prosecution, let’s not forget that. The DA (district attorney) and his team, they put together a case, and unfortunately they were not able to get a conviction.
“But now it is time for us to put together our cases… not against Betty Shelby, but the city of Tulsa. It was the city of Tulsa that took Terence’s life. It was the city of Tulsa (Police Department) who was exposed.”
The pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church, The Rev. Rodney Goss, aimed some of his harshest criticism of the Crutcher case on the local police union.
“The Fraternal Order of Police took sides,” Goss said.
The union had a pronounced public presence just prior to and during the trial. A few days before the trial was set to begin, the FOP filed an ethics complaint against District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler alleging that he had rushed to judgment without proper evidence. The union also posted a video on Facebook in support of Shelby that showed how quickly an individual could pull a gun out of a vehicle and fire it.
“Undoubtedly the FOP swayed the opinion of the public, and maybe even the jury,” Goss said. “The same people who make up the FOP are the same ones who are going to be canvassing our neighborhoods all over again.
“How do you trust someone who erodes the trust? How do you believe someone who got ahead of justice before the wheels of justice ever turned?”
The chairman of the board of the local FOP, Jerad Lindsey, told the Frontier late Thursday that the union was in no way attempting to influence the jury. The video on the time it takes to pull a gun out of a vehicle and fire it, for example, was not posted until the jury was selected and instructed not to look at any media or social media reports regarding the case, Lindsey said.
“We did it to educate the public, not to influence the jury,” Lindsey said of the video.
Just because the union supports one of its members does not mean it does not sympathize with the Crutcher family, Lindsey said.
“We work to seek truth and justice for all involved, we always do,” Lindsey said. “We follow the law to the best of our ability. We are professionals that serve professionally on a daily basis.
“We want to see Tulsa come out the other side of this a stronger, better Tulsa.”
The Crutcher family’s press conference was held less than two hours after Bynum and Jordan met the media at City Hall. Security was tight, with Tulsa police officers stationed at the entrance of the building and at the entrance to the 15th-floor meeting room where Bynum and Jordan spoke. Media members were required to show their media credentials to gain access to the building, and Bynum and Jordan took no questions.
Jordan said the city and the Police Department are working to determine what Shelby’s work status will be going forward and that he expects a decision on that matter soon.
He also acknowledged the Police Department’s failings – though he did not provide specifics – and said the department is committed to creating a better relationship “where we can ensure trust and ensure cooperation in our community.”
“I hope everybody in this room and everybody watching this particular press conference is on board with that because we are ready to move forward,” Jordan said.
Bynum, who spoke first, began his remarks by recognizing the Crutcher family.
“The Crutcher family are very good people and they have experienced the worst loss that any of us as humans can experience,” the mayor said. “His parents have had to bury a son, his kids will grow up without a dad who loves them.
“As a community, we feel great pain for the Crutcher family, as you do for neighbors who suffer such an awful loss.”
Turning to Tulsa’s police officers, Bynum described them as good people “who put their lives on the line everyday to protect the rest of us.”
But he said there is no doubt that a divide exists in the city, and that the first step in addressing that is to acknowledge it. And he did, noting that one part of the city – north Tulsa – is synonymous with an entire race – African-Americans. And that there is a 10-year difference in life expectancy between the most African-American part of the city and the rest of the community.
“The first step is acknowledgment,” Bynum said, “but the next step is action.”
Bynum said the city will have body cameras on all police officers and a citizen advisory board within each division of the Police Department by the end of the year. He also touted the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing, which has already issued 77 recommendations, and the city’s plan to hire a record number of police officers to put Tulsa in better position to implement community policing practices.
“We (the Mayor’s Office and City Council) are in unanimous agreement that issues of racial disparity in Tulsa need to be addressed, and we have a unanimous desire to take actions to bring all of the tools that city government has at its disposal to address this,” Bynum said.
Bynum seemed frustrated and disappointed that some Tulsans continue to expect lawlessness from the African-American community in response to “an incident or a verdict” that does not go their way.
“I would remind Tulsans that our history shows that African-Americans in Tulsa have not been the instigators of lawlessness and riots, they have been the victims of them,” he said, in an apparent reference to the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. “So I am going to ask that we not keep assuming the worst from part of our community that has been exposed to the worst in this city’s history.”
Frontier reporter Kassie McClung contributed to this story.