Less than 24 hours after Terence Crutcher was shot and killed during an encounter with Tulsa police Friday, the slain man’s family gathered in its living room to speak to the media.
They cried, they embraced, and they pleaded for justice. Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s sister, had just flown in from her home in Montgomery, Ala., but she never appeared tired. Weary, perhaps, from having to discuss her brother’s death, but tired? No. She looked strong and determined.
Perhaps that’s because the Crutcher family is no stranger to tragedy and Terence’s death isn’t the first tribulation they’ve faced together.
Less than a decade ago, Terrence Crutcher’s nephews, Donivan Crutcher and his twin brother Adrion, were riding with two of their teenage cousins near Pine Street and Cincinnati Avenue when a gray, mid-90s model four-door Chevrolet Caprice pulled up next to them.
It was 2008, just before noon on an early September day — that time of year when summer is beginning to fade into fall and kids try to coax extra enjoyment out of their weekends, knowing Monday and school looms just around the corner.
Suddenly the occupants of the gray car pulled out an assault rifle and started firing. All four boys — Donivan, Adrion, Jahmal Bryant, and Jeremy Williams — were shot. Donivan died, Adrion was paralyzed from the waist down, and Williams was blinded in one eye. Bryant was shot in the chest but survived with only scars, both mental and physical.
When it comes to the Crutcher family, who was forced this week to sit by as millions across the world watched video of another relative, Terence Crutcher, be gunned down by a Tulsa policeman, tragedy seems to be an all-too-common occurrence.
In 2014, the family lost Donivan and Adrion’s father, Joey Laron Crutcher Jr., 44, to cancer. Like Terence, his brother, Joey was a musician and was deeply loved. An online guestbook at the website of the chapel that buried him contained dozens of messages from classmates, friends and relatives.
Then a month later, Joey Crutcher Sr.’s sister died.
“It’s almost like a Job thing,” Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said, referencing the biblical story of Job, who faced calamity after calamity. Solomon-Simmons represents the Crutcher family in Terence’s death. “It’s hard to try and figure out how a family who are the nicest, lovingest, givingest people you can ever meet, how is it possible they have suffered some of the worst harm you can imagine?”
When Donivan was killed, he was in a vehicle coming home from church, Solomon-Simmons said. The shooting ended up being a case of mistaken identity. Three gang members, one of whom had been recently shot, decided to seek their own revenge.
Seeing the red car that Donivan, Adrion and the other two teens were in, they thought they had found rival gang members, and Vincent “Venom” Berry opened fire with an assault rifle.
Berry, Rashad Easley and Antonio Wells were all convicted in the shootings. Berry is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. Wells was convicted of accessory to murder and is not eligible for parole until 2030.
Easley, who drove the vehicle that day, was also sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Joey Crutcher Jr. died six years later. One needs only to look at the comments left on his obituary to see how people felt about the 44-year-old musician.
“I love you and miss you,” one person wrote. “You are my ancestor now. Please stay with me, watch over me, protect and guide me. God bless your soul.”
“May God comfort you in your time of sorrow,” wrote another person. “Joey was my classmate and we will cherish the fond memories we have of him. Dr. and Mrs. Joey Crutcher you all were blessed with a great child. Joey will be missed.”
Solomon-Simmons said the family can only be so strong for so long.
“Any one of these things would be enough to make most people break down, much less all of them together,” Solomon-Simmons said. He reiterated his hope that the investigation into Terence Crutcher’s shooting will lead to criminal charges being brought against Betty Shelby, the officer who shot him.
“The police department has to do what’s right for this family,” Solomon-Simmons said. “The citizens that know this family so well, they know without a shadow of a doubt that if anyone deserves justice, it’s this family.”
Updates in the Terence Crutcher shooting
Attorneys for Crutcher’s family held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside the Tulsa County District Courthouse to “clear up some misconceptions” following the release yesterday of video footage of the shooting.
On Monday, attorney Scott Wood, who represents Shelby and has represented numerous law enforcement officers, told the Tulsa World that Shelby shot Crutcher when the 40-year-old reached into his stalled SUV last Friday.
That statement at first appeared to be backed up by video footage released by TPD. However, Solomon-Simmons and Benjamin Crump, another attorney for the Crutcher family, displayed enlarged images during their press conference they said showed the SUV’s window was rolled up during the time Crutcher was shot.
In fact, in the enlarged image, it appeared a large bloodstain was visible on the window as Crutcher’s bloody body lay on the pavement below.
“What we want to draw to your attention is this whole notion that he was reaching into the window,” Crump said. “Well the good thing about video is it is objective, it’s nonpartisan, it doesn’t have to try to win over supporters or voters. It is what it is.”
Crump said he hoped to give the enlarged images to Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler.
Solomon-Simmons said at the press conference that the shooting “was unjustified,” regardless of whether the window was down or up.
“If you watch the video, it’s clear to see that Terence did not have a weapon in his hand,” said Solomon-Simmons. “The video clearly shows Terence was not being belligerent … he had his hands up. He didn’t make any sudden movements.”
Just before the press conference, Tulsa Police did say they found a small vial of PCP in Crutcher’s vehicle. Wood had told the paper on Monday that Shelby was a “drug recognition expert” and believed that Crutcher was on PCP at the time of the shooting. It’s unclear whether Wood knew at the time that the PCP had been recovered from the vehicle, as police have not said when they discovered the drugs inside the SUV.
“We don’t have possession of the vehicle, it’s still in the custody of the police department, but we understand they have put that statement out,” Crump said. “We want the opportunity for the DA, and the state attorney, and the police department, and everybody to be transparent. Don’t put out stuff that would demonize (Crutcher) and try to make him look as if he was doing something nefarious. Put the entire story out, that the misinformation given about the window being down and him putting his hand in the car, reaching for something, is misinformation.
“Let us not be thrown a red herring, and say that because something was found in the car, that was justification to shoot him.”
Crump compared Crutcher’s shooting to the arrest of New York bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami. Rahami, 28, is accused of planting bombs there that injured dozens. He was eventually taken into custody on Monday.
“He wasn’t taken down with lethal force, he wasn’t killed,” Crum said of Rahami. “So why is an unarmed black man who has committed no crime, who only needs a hand, given (a) bullet in his lungs?”