Less than 24 hours after accepting the endorsement of Tulsa’s Fraternal Order of Police, Ben Fu, a Republican candidate for District Attorney, withdrew from his defense of a man charged with shooting at police officers.
Until Tuesday, Fu, who was an assistant district attorney before leaving the DA’s office to become a private attorney in 2017, had represented Darius Padillow in a criminal case alleging that Padillow shot at two Tulsa Police officers late last year.
Fu told The Frontier in a statement on Tuesday he had withdrawn from defending Padillow.
“This morning I presented an application to withdraw from my representation of Darius Padillow. Our constitution guarantees each of us the right to a fair trial and the right to hire the attorney of our choice. However, the recent comments made by District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler to a media outlet in his bid for re-election, have politicized this case to the extent that I must withdraw to protect my client – and to assure he receives a fair trial.”
Fu’s endorsement by the FOP came less than a week after the police union held a candidate forum at their east Tulsa Lodge. Fu and fellow Republicans Steve Kunzweiler and Tammy Westcott appeared with Democrat candidate Jenny Proehl-Day and answered questions for nearly three hours that day.
The FOP has been at odds with Kunzweiler since 2016 when he filed first-degree manslaughter charges against Betty Shelby, a Tulsa Police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher during a traffic stop. Crutcher, who was black, was unarmed, though Shelby said she believed he was reaching inside his stalled SUV for a weapon when she shot and killed him.
Shelby was eventually acquitted and briefly returned to TPD before resigning. She is now a patrol deputy for the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office.
Days before Shelby’s trial last year, FOP chairman Jerad Lindsey filed a bar complaint against Kunzweiler — a complaint the Oklahoma Bar Association declined to take up.
Lindsey later told The Frontier that the FOP would not endorse Kunzweiler, but would consider endorsing another candidate if one met their standards. On Monday, they officially endorsed Fu.
Hours after Fu was endorsed by the FOP, Tulsa television station KTUL posted a story entitled “Race for Tulsa County District Attorney gets rough,” in which they asked Fu about the Darius Padillow case.
The story said Kunzweiler texted a KTUL reporter about the Padillow case, saying “Ben Fu is representing him. I wonder if TPD FOP knew that before they endorsed him.”
Fu told the station that his “first instinct” was that both he and Kunzweiler needed to recuse from Padillow’s case.
“I find it shocking that a sitting elected official who is currently the lead prosecutor for this county would see fit to politicize a criminal charge that’s currently pending,” Fu told the station. “It’s disappointing that Mr. Kunzweiler would bring something like this up.”
Padillow allegedly fired 10 shots at police officers last November after being told to leave a Tulsa gas station.
Officers asked Padillow to leave “as he was banned by the store,” according to a police report filed in Padillow’s case. “Officers walked back towards their patrol vehicles when several gun shots rang out. Officers observed Padillow and another male subject running north from the area.”
Padillow allegedly later told officers he had fired “ten (10) times towards Tulsa Police Officers to ‘send a message,’ the report states. He was charged with two counts of shooting with intent to kill and other charges related to resisting arrest.
Padillow’s preliminary hearing is set for Thursday.
During the press conference announcing their endorsement of Fu on Monday, Lindsey told reporters the FOP felt “there is a need for change in Tulsa County at our District Attorney’s Office, and we believe that Ben can be the person who brings that change.”
“We have worked through this process diligently with our membership and we came to a decision to endorse Ben because we feel that he is the right person for the job,” Lindsey said.
Asked about Fu’s representation of Padillow, Lindsey said that FOP members “understand that everyone, whether we agree with what they did or not … is entitled to an adequate defense.”
“We encourage a vigorous prosecution (of Padillow,) however that’s part of being in private practice,” Lindsey said. “I’m sure (Fu has) got to take cases I’m sure sometimes he doesn’t agree with.”
As for Kunzweiler, Lindsey has previously said he believes that outside of the Shelby case, Kunzweiler has “done a good job” as district attorney. But on Monday, Lindsey pointed out to The Frontier that in 2014, as Kunzweiler ran for DA the first time, that the FOP didn’t endorse him then, either.
“A lot of the issues we saw coming with Steve have come to life,” Lindsey said.