A felony charge against the widow of Terence Crutcher cited as a key reason she isn’t fit to serve as special administrator of her husband’s estate was dismissed Thursday afternoon.
The dismissal is likely to impact a legal dispute over who should be in control of Crutcher’s estate, since the charge may impact a guardianship case over Crutcher’s children and was also cited in the estate challenge. Whoever controls Crutcher’s estate also controls the right to file a civil rights lawsuit over his death.
Tulsa District Judge William LaFortune dismissed the felony charge against Frenchel Johnson alleging she threatened her neighbor’s sister-in-law, Toshiba Brown, with a kitchen knife during a barbecue in August.
Terence Crutcher’s parents, the Rev. Joey Crutcher and Leanna Crutcher, are contesting Johnson’s request to be appointed special administrator of his estate. They have pointed to Johnson being accused of a violent crime as one of the reasons she isn’t qualified to serve as administrator.
Thomas Mortensen, an attorney representing Johnson, said in a statement: “We are very pleased that Judge LaFortune granted our motion to quash and dismissed the felony charge of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon. It was our view that the State failed to present any evidence in support of this serious charge against Ms. Johnson.
“We feel vindicated by Judge LaFortune’s just and well-reasoned ruling. Now, Ms. Johnson looks forward to continuing the pursuit of justice for the death of her husband, Terence Crutcher.”
Terence Crutcher died Sept. 16 after he was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer, who came upon his SUV parked in the middle of a north Tulsa street.
Police video shows Terence Crutcher walking slowly away from the officer with his hands up before he was shot. The officer, Betty Shelby, was bound over for trial Tuesday on a first-degree manslaughter charge in his death.
A motion filed by his parents in September disputed Johnson being named special administrator of his estate, called her “disqualified” and “incompetent.” It also noted Johnson was awaiting trial for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and noted her past criminal record.
Johnson was arrested Aug. 13 after she became involved in a dispute with Brown.
Johnson was in her own front yard 40 feet away from Brown, when she was waving the knife and did not stab Brown. There was a fence and at least one officer between them, according to court documents. Still, Johnson was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, a felony.
The charge was originally filed as an assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, but before the preliminary hearing in the case in September, where she was bound over for trial, the charge was amended to an assault with a dangerous weapon.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler previously told The Frontier the initial charge alleging that Johnson stabbed the victim was filed “erroneously.”
LaFortune decided Thursday afternoon there was insufficient probable cause Johnson committed all the elements of the crime and dismissed the felony charge. LaFortune pointed out the two women had 40 feet and an officer between them and said he doubted Johnson’s intent to do bodily harm to Brown.
Records show Brown didn’t testify in the preliminary hearing. Tulsa Police officer Chris Turner who was at the scene outside the couple’s home for 30 minutes, was the only witness.
Mortensen noted there was no testimony in the preliminary hearing of Turner mentioning he was in fear because of Johnson’s actions. Mortensen also pointed out there was no mention Brown heard or saw the alleged threat.
“If a person doesn’t hear or see a threat, can it be an assault?” Mortensen asked.
Turner testified at the case’s preliminary hearing that the situation had calmed down by the time he arrived and both women were on their own properties. But as Turner and other officers were leaving the scene, Brown left her yard and ran into the street in front of Johnson’s house.
Johnson then came onto her porch with a large kitchen knife, according to court documents. Turner testified Johnson yelled at Brown, saying: “I’m going to dice you up. I’ve got something for you.”
Johnson said officers ordered her to “freeze” and she immediately put her hands up, with the knife still in her hand. Several officers deployed their Tasers on her at that time, she said.
She was charged with obstructing an officer because she allegedly refused orders to drop the knife and misdemeanor assault and battery because she allegedly spit on Brown.
Tulsa police said no video exists of the incident and declined requests to provide audio without a court order.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Knopp argued there was a clear attempt by Johnson to assault Brown because Johnson wielded a knife and was making verbal threats to Brown.
After LaFortune made his decision to dismiss the felony charge, Knopp said the decision wouldn’t be appealed. However, she said the DA’s office may elect to refile the charge as a misdemeanor count of threatening an act of violence.
In arguments Johnson isn’t eligible to serve as administrator of Terence Crutcher’s estate, the Rev. Joey Crutcher and Leanna Crutcher also have noted Johnson doesn’t have custody of the couple’s three children.
Terence Crutcher and Johnson had three children together, ages 4, 12 and 15. Crutcher also raised Johnson’s son, now 17, as his own.
Three days after their son died and while Johnson was in jail for the incident, the Crutchers sought and obtained emergency guardianship over the couple’s children. They have said the children have been in their custody most of their lives, but Johnson has disputed that.
One of the main arguments surrounding the issue of who serves as special administrator of the estate is whether Terence Crutcher and Johnson were common-law married. Joey, Leanna and Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s twin sister, contend the couple wasn’t.
Johnson has said she had a common-law marriage to Terence Crutcher, lived with him for 16 years and that she raised her children for the “majority of their lives.”
Tulsa District Judge Kurt Glassco will decide Monday whether Crutcher’s relationship with Johnson qualified as a common-law marriage in Oklahoma. Glassco heard court testimony featuring 18 witnesses, dozens of exhibits and seven attorneys during October’s two-day hearing.
If Glassco determines Johnson to be Terence Crutcher’s common-law wife, she stands to inherit half of his estate, including any proceeds from a civil lawsuit over his death. Until the decision is made, an attorney appointed by the court will oversee the estate, including about $150,000 raised in a GoFundMe account.
Questions have been raised about oversight of the account and during the hearing, Tiffany Crutcher revealed that the funds were deposited in a bank in Alabama, where she lives. Glassco directed her to transfer the funds to an attorney appointed to represent the estate.
In a report filed Thursday, appointed special administrator Austin Bond said the funds were fully transferred to the estate’s bank account on Nov. 22. Tiffany Crutcher wired the $153,000 in funds from her bank account Nov. 18.
The report also states Bond received $425 in other contributions to the estate.
The GoFundMe account originally directed people to send checks to the Florida law office of Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing the Crutchers.
Money was also raised during a rally at the Jazz Hall of Fame following Crutcher’s death. A similar rally is scheduled for Saturday to honor Crutcher.
Crump has represented families following several high-profile police shooting cases, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. He and his local counsel, Damario Solomon-Simmons, have not responded to requests for comment about the GoFundMe account.
The GoFundMe account, which had raised $167,000, was originally intended to benefit Terence Crutcher’s immediate family. The funds were initially to be sent to the Terence Crutcher estate in care of Crump.
When Johnson’s attorney, Dan Smolen, notified the attorneys to stop collecting money in the estate’s name, the page was changed to state the funds should be sent to Tiffany Crutcher in Alabama.
Though the account originally had more than $167,000 in it, Tiffany Crutcher testified in the last day of October’s hearing that when she transferred the funds to her account, GoFundMe collected a percentage of the donations. The account now holds $150,000, she said.
Tiffany Crutcher testified no money had been spent out of the account.
Solomon-Simmons also argued during October’s hearing Terence Crutcher didn’t consider Johnson his wife.
Solomon-Simmons pointed out Johnson didn’t have a marriage license or certificate, didn’t have a marriage ceremony or and hadn’t been recognized as the common-law wife of Terence Crutcher by any court.
Solomon-Simmons also noted the couple listed themselves as single on Facebook and on government documents, such as tax forms.
“When Terence Crutcher had the opportunity, he always said he was single,” Solomon-Simmons said at the hearing, referencing the documents.
Solomon-Simmons stressed there needs to be a mutual agreement between the couple that they are married in order to establish a common-law marriage. He said there’s “zero evidence” Terence Crutcher consented to that status.
However, Joey Crutcher admitted he called Johnson his daughter-in-law and said she was married to his son for 16 years in a recording made Sept. 23 during a meeting in the law office of Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Johnson.
He also admitted to asking whether he could put Johnson on his son’s death certificate as his wife and asking Smolen about Oklahoma’s law regarding common-law marriage.
In Smolen’s final arguments in the hearing, he pointed to the testimony of two attorneys who said the couple considered themselves married, an engraved wedding ring Crutcher gave Johnson, testimony of a landlord and statements by people other than direct family members with something to gain by their testimony.
Smolen said the couple was together for 16 years and presented themselves to the community as married, citing testimony from the couple’s friends.