The attorney for Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby accused police chief Chuck Jordan of back-channel efforts to circumvent his own investigator and ensure charges against Shelby would be filed following the shooting death of Terence Crutcher in September.
The accusation came during the close of Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, after Special Judge Martha Rupp Carter told Shannon McMurray (one of Shelby’s attorneys) she could not call her own witnesses. Rupp Carter eventually bound over Shelby for trial on the first-degree manslaughter charge she faces.
McMurray responded to Rupp Carter by telling the judge she believed one of her proposed witnesses, officer Tyler Turnbough, would testify that he only drew his Taser during the encounter with Crutcher because Shelby had already drawn her handgun. McMurray said she believed Turnbough would testify that if Shelby had instead drawn her Taser, he would have drawn his handgun, and he would have shot Crutcher as he reached into his SUV that day.
McMurray then said that if Jordan “testified honestly,” he would tell the court that he was so “afraid of civil unrest” that he took “pre-emptive steps” to get charges filed by meeting with Mayor Dewey Bartlett and District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. That was, she said, because TPD Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker was set to hand to Kunzweiler a report recommending no charges be filed against Shelby for the shooting.
Jordan said in the days following the shooting that he met with Crutcher’s family, as well as north Tulsa community leaders, to speak with them and let them view the videos of Crutcher’s death before they were released to the public. In a press conference prior to the videos’ release and to the charge being filed, Jordan promised to “achieve justice” in Crutcher’s death.
Following the hearing, Kunzweiler vehemently denied the allegation of any type of collusion.
“That did not happen,” he told reporters.
In the two months since the shooting, neither Walker nor any TPD spokesperson has commented on whether Walker planned on recommending charges against Shelby. A hastily called press conference where Kunzweiler announced Shelby was being charged with first-degree manslaughter happened the day before Walker planned to give Kunzweiler his report.
When Kunzweiler charged Shelby, the affidavit attached to the charge was written by Kunzweiler’s investigator Doug Campbell. Kunzweiler said after the hearing that he had seen enough documents and video to make his decision without relying on Walker’s full report.
“I very specifically talked with (Jordan) and said ‘I’m ready to make my decision. I’m prepared to file charges, I can have my investigator do that or you can have one of your officers (do that,”) Kunzweiler said. “Given the delicate nature of the circumstances involving his department, It was (Jordan’s) request that my investigator prepare the affidavit … I recognize it was a difficult case for the Tulsa Police Department.”
Walker testified during Tuesday’s hearing, but when McMurray attempted to ask him if his report would have recommended charges against Shelby, the line of questioning was stopped by Rupp Carter.
It’s unclear what influence McMurray alleges Jordan and Bartlett would have had over Kunzweiler. He said following the hearing that he “should not be the district attorney if I’m letting somebody’s political interests overcome what my duty under the law is.”
Assistant district attorney Kevin Gray said during the hearing he was “offended” by McMurray’s accusation, and that it was rare to have “an officer of the court impugn the integrity of the police chief.”
Since the shooting, Bartlett has at multiple times talked about helping keep Tulsa from “unrest” following the shooting, and he received a phone call from President Barack Obama about the city’s reaction in the weeks after the incident.
Walker was the only witness called during Tuesday’s hearing and said that he did not feel Shelby acted inappropriately prior to the shooting. Crutcher, he said, was later found to have been on PCP (a strong psychoactive drug) during the incident, and while he followed commands to raise his hands, he also simultaneously ignored commands to stop moving and get on his knees.
Walker said both Shelby and Turnbough said Crutcher reached into the vehicle through the driver’s side window, which was “halfway down” during the encounter. Civil attorneys for the Crutcher family have argued that the window was rolled up, which would not have allowed Crutcher to reach into the SUV.
Shelby’s emotional status at the time of the shooting played a key role in Tuesday’s hearing. Campbell’s affidavit alleged that Shelby was “emotional” and “overreacted” when she shot Crutcher. McMurray countered that Shelby had dealt that night with an uncooperative Crutcher for nearly three minutes, and that Shelby feared for her life because she believed Crutcher, who towered over her, was on PCP.
“How dare the state judge someone for being emotional after taking someone’s life,” McMurray said during the hearing. Gray argued in return that days after the shooting, when Shelby gave her interview with police detectives, Shelby was still “overcome” with emotion, and appeared to still be traumatized more than 72 hours later.
That 47-minute video interview was not played in the courtroom Tuesday, though Rupp Carter viewed it in her chambers during an hour-long recess.
McMurray gave a brief statement following the hearing, saying that she “wasn’t surprised” at the outcome.
The judge set Shelby’s district court arraignment for Dec. 19, at which point a trial date will be determined.
Set the record straight
About 30 minutes prior to Shelby’s hearing, her daughter Amber spoke outside the courthouse about what she feels is unfair treatment of her mother. The press conference was called by a group called “Law Enforcement Supporters for Media Accountability,” an organization which boasts thousands of members and routinely criticizes the media for its coverage of police shootings.
Amber, whose last name was withheld by LESMA, said during her two-minute speech that her mother had “already been tried in the court of public opinion.”
“My mother is an incredible, supportive, loving and caring woman,” Amber said. “She is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother with a heart of gold. She has always fought for the underdog and stands up for the weak. She is morally strong and a nurturer of humanity.
“To her, being a police officer was not about the negativity, but about all of the positive changes she could implement in the community,” she said. “I’m here to tell you that my mother is a woman of character and integrity, she is not just the image you saw plastered on the television screen for two weeks … the media will not tell you these things. The media has made every effort to destroy her character and associate her name with that of a monster.”