A Tulsa police officer who failed to activate his body camera in time to record a fatal encounter between a north Tulsa man and three law enforcement officers did not break TPD policy by not recording the shooting, documents show.
The officer, 32-year-old Donnie Johnson, along with Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputies William Ramsey, 49, and Brandon Walker, 41, were involved in an encounter with Joshua Barre on June 9.
The deputies, assigned to TCSO’s mental health unit, said they were conducting a wellness check on Barre, whose family had warned the Sheriff’s Office days earlier that Barre was mentally ill and had been off his medication for more than a month.
The encounter turned tragic when Barre, armed with two butcher knives at his side, shook off a Taser strike and entered a north Tulsa convenience store. He was shot several times just inside the entrance of the store and was later pronounced dead.
Tulsa police released eight videos in the wake of the shooting — six dash camera videos, one video from inside the convenience store where the shooting took place, and one body camera video. TCSO deputies are not equipped with body cameras or dash cameras.
But Johnson’s camera only began recording after Barre had been shot, and since none of the police vehicles present were pointed at the front of the convenience store, they only recorded audio of the shooting.
“Thankfully, there was an in-store camera that recorded the shooting,” TPD spokesman Sgt. Shane Tuell said. The video showed a knife-wielding Barre entering the store, being shot immediately, and spinning in a half-circle before falling to the floor.
Just before Barre entered the store, security cameras showed two people looking out the door, then running away. Police have said officers fired in order to protect people who may have been in the store, fearing Barre could have created a hostage situation had he gotten inside.
The Police Department’s body camera policy is not available online (the full policy is available on the TPD website but has not been updated to include the new portion related to body cameras.)
Tuell said about 40 officers “volunteered” last year to test out body cameras given to the department in order to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras.
Johnson was one of the volunteers, Tuell said.
When his body camera video was released last week, some questioned why the video didn’t show the Barre shooting. Tulsa police have since said that Johnson’s camera was in the off position when he arrived at the scene so it required about 30 seconds to boot up before it began recording.
Had the camera been in standby mode, it would have started recording immediately.
The department’s policy regarding body cameras and the videos they produce states that officers are required to record “all enforcement actions,” such as the Barre encounter.
However, the policy also states that an officer who finds himself in a situation where activating the camera presents an “officer safety risk,” the camera is required to be turned on “as soon as practical and reasonable.”
The officer must then detail the reason for the delay in recording in either an incident report or an “interoffice correspondence” to the police chief.
Tuell said that in this case, Johnson would not have to detail the reason for the recording delay because that topic would have been covered in Johnson’s interview with police investigators following the fatal shooting.
Tulsa police are tasked with investigating the Barre shooting, which happened less than a month after the acquittal of TPD officer Betty Shelby. Shelby, who is white, was charged with first-degree manslaughter last September after killing Terence Crutcher, who was black, during an encounter on a north Tulsa street.
Barre was black, as is Johnson. Both Ramsey and Walker are white.
Barre’s death, like Shelby’s acquittal last month, kicked off protests that were brief but emotionally charged. News cameras filming the reaction to Barre’s shooting death captured a crowd cursing at police officers, and one video recorded a man claiming to be Barre’s brother criticizing black police officers.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said last week he hoped to have the full report on the Barre shooting from TPD this week, but that he was “following along as pieces of the investigation are completed.”