A judge ruled Monday that Terence Crutcher and the mother of his children do not have a common-law marriage but declined to place his parents or sister in charge of his estate, citing inconsistent testimony and concerns about a GoFundMe account.
Tulsa County District Judge Kurt Glassco named Crutcher’s four minor children as the estate’s heirs. Frenchel Johnson is the mother of three of the children and lived with Crutcher for 14 years.
Glassco ruled that Tulsa attorney Austin Bond will remain special administrator of the estate.
Crutcher had few assets when he died but his heirs will inherit any proceeds from a civil rights lawsuit brought in the name of his estate.
His parents, Rev. Joey and Leanna Crutcher, had challenged Johnson’s claim to be Crutcher’s common-law wife and administrator of the estate.
Crutcher died Sept. 16 after he was shot 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, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and a plea of not guilty has been entered.
Though the order states Johnson isn’t eligible to serve as special administrator of the estate, it says neither are Terence Crutcher’s parents.
Normally, the parents would be considered as special administrators. However, Glassco’s order states inconsistencies in Joey Crutcher’s testimony and prior statements raised concern.
During a two-day hearing in October, Joey Crutcher testified he didn’t consider the couple to be married but believed his son should have married Johnson because it was the right thing to do.
“If you have kids you should be married,” he said during the hearing. “It should be done according to God’s will.”
However, during cross examination 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 during a meeting in attorney Dan Smolen’s office Sept. 23.
He also admitted asking whether he could put Johnson on his son’s death certificate as his wife and asking Smolen about common-law marriage in Oklahoma.
The judge said he did not take the recording into consideration because of concerns about its legality. However the order acknowledges Joey Crutcher gave conflicting statements regarding his son’s relationship to Johnson.
The order also said Tiffany Crutcher was disqualified from being named special administrator because she deposited money raised for the estate of Terence Crutcher through a GoFundMe page into her personal bank account in Alabama.
At least $168,000 was raised through the online fundraising platform after Crutcher’s death. During a previous hearing in the estate case, Glassco ordered attorneys for Crutcher’s parents and sister to turn over the funds to the estate or face possible intervention by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Glassco questioned Tiffany Crutcher on the stand about what happened to the funds and she said they had been deposited in an Alabama bank account which she and her father controlled. Both she and the attorneys assured the judge the funds were in the account intended to benefit the children and would be transferred.
However it took nearly a month to transfer the funds, records show.
In a report filed Thursday, 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.
Tiffany Crutcher testified when she transferred the funds to her own bank account, GoFundMe collected a percentage of the donations. However, the funds were returned to the estate without an accounting of all funds collected for the estate.
The GoFundMe account originally directed people to send checks to the estate of Terence Crutcher in care of the Florida law office of Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing the Crutchers.
Crump has also represented families in several high profile cases including relatives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. Though Crump appeared at rallies and gave statements on behalf of the Crutchers, he did not enter a formal appearance as an attorney in the case or attend hearings in the estate case.
When Smolen notified Crump and Solomon-Simmons to stop claiming they represented the estate, the GoFundMe account was changed to state the funds should be sent to Tiffany Crutcher, who lives in Alabama.
Glassco noted in his order it was his first run-in with GoFundMe and there are still many questions left unanswered about the account to be addressed at a later date.
Solomon-Simmons told reporters Monday the family was happy with Glassco’s decision, but repeatedly stressed that no one took money from the estate.
“We look forward to the opportunity to make that very clear that the funds that were raised with GoFundMe will go to the administration for seeking justice for Terence and also for his children,” Solomon-Simmons said.
Solomon-Simmons sidestepped questions from The Frontier about money raised at a rally featuring Al Sharpton on Sept. 27. The rally was held following a march and other activities to honor Crutcher.
At least $1,000 was raised at the rally. Asked how those funds were handled, Solomon-Simmons said: “I don’t know anything about that.”
A spokeswoman for Sharpton, a well known civil rights and media figure, said Sharpton “had nothing to do with the GoFundMe nor did he have any ongoing role in the fundraising” for Crutcher. Her comments did not directly address what happened with funds raised at the rally, however.
In a statement on behalf of Johnson, Smolen said: “We appreciate Judge Glassco’s findings that: (A) Terence Crutcher and Frenchel Johnson were in a ‘long term (14 plus year) relationship’; (B) their three (3) children together are Terence’s ‘heirs at law’; and (C) neighbors and other observers viewed Terence, Frenchel and their children as a family.
“At the same time, we are disappointed with the court’s ruling that Frenchel was not Terence’s common-law spouse. This has been a trying and emotional process for Frenchel, who is still mourning Terence’s death. In the coming days, we will be weighing Frenchel’s options going forward.”
Glassco read an eight-page order Monday morning outlining how the court came to its decision and what qualifies as a common-law marriage in Oklahoma.
To have a common-law marriage in Oklahoma, a couple must have an agreement to present themselves as married, a permanent relationship, an exclusive relationship with cohabitation and must hold themselves out as married to the community.
The order states the court also looked at whether couple shared bank accounts, the same last name and joint ownership of cars or property.
Family and friends of Johnson and Terence Crutcher gave conflicting testimony about whether the couple presented itself as married during October’s hearing, the order noted.
Terence Crutcher proposed to Johnson in 2012, but his family testified he never intended to marry her.
Joey Crutcher said he was thrilled when his son proposed, but weeks later said his son told him he didn’t intend on marrying her.
“I started calling Frenchel my daughter-in-law when they got engaged out of respect,” Joey Crutcher testified.
The couple had separate bank accounts and filed separate tax returns, the order states. It’s clear Terence Crutcher stayed at a home with Johnson, but the lease and utilities are in her name only.
In school documents, tax returns and patient information forms, Terence Crutcher listed himself as single. Johnson also listed herself as single on a rental application, a pauper’s affidavit and a bail bond application.
The order also states there was conflicting testimony as to whether Terence Crutcher held himself out as married.
Some people thought the couple was married. Others described Terence Crutcher as Johnson’s “significant other.” Others called Johnson his “baby’s momma,” the order says. Neighbors saw them as a “blended family” and to observers they were a family.
“They lived together, they loved each other, cared for each other, celebrated events with each other and attended church together,” Glassco’s order states. “The children called them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’ ”