A split among the relatives of Terence Crutcher spilled out in a very public fashion Monday.
Crutcher’s parents are alleging in court documents that his widow is unqualified and unsuited to be appointed special administrator of his estate. That’s important because the administrator of the estate will serve as plaintiff in any civil lawsuit and decide how best to spend the $169,000 in funds donated to help Crutcher’s children.
The Rev. Joey Crutcher and Leanna Crutcher filed a motion Monday in Tulsa County District Court alleging Frenchel Johnson is ineligible to be appointed as special administrator of Terence Crutcher’s estate.
Crutcher, 40, was fatally shot by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby on Sept. 16.
“Ms. Johnson failed to disclose to the court that Terence Crutcher was survived by his parents, that his parents intended to file and pursue a civil action for his wrongful death, and that his parents were already represented by local attorneys,” the motion states.
Joey and Leanna Crutcher are represented by Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons of the Riggs Abney Law Firm as well as Benjamin Crump, a Florida-based attorney who has represented families in several high-profile police shootings.
When contacted for comment, Solomon-Simmons pointed to the motion but did not have further comment.
The issue is similar to a falling out between the family of Tamir Rice and Crump. Rice is the 12-year-old shot to death by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun.
Neither Solomon-Simmons nor Crump has responded to requests from The Frontier for additional information about the GoFundMe account set up in Terence Crutcher’s name.
Funds are sent to Crump’s Tallahassee law firm in the name of Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany, who lives out of state. A photo of the family at Christmas, which includes Frenchel Johnson, is displayed on the page.
The GoFundMe page states: “100% of all funds collected on this website will be withdrawn to a bank account established by our clients, the parents and sibling of Terence Crutcher, for the benefit of his kids. All fund donated here will be transferred directly to Tiffany Crutcher for her family’s benefit.”
The motion filed by Crutcher’s parents says Johnson didn’t disclose that she is a convicted felon and that that disqualifies her from being appointed special adminstrator. The motion calls Johnson “ineligible and incompetent” and states that Terence Crutcher’s parents have custody of their three minor children.
Attorney Dan Smolen, who represents Johnson, said the law has been interpreted in different ways but that Johnson could appoint someone else, such as an attorney or other relative, to serve as administrator in her place.
The motion also claims that the children have been in the parents’ custody for most of their lives. Because Crutcher’s parents are legal guardians to the children, they are the “rightful and lawful persons” to represent the estate and any wrongful-death litigation on his behalf, the motion states.
Referencing Johnson’s criminal history, the motion says any litigation on Terence Crutcher’s behalf would be “undermined and unduly complicated” if brought by her.
Oklahoma is one of the few states that make “common-law marriage” legally equivalent to traditional marriage. The law generally defines common-law marriage as one in which a couple lives together, are known in the community as married and refer to themselves as married.
“There was neither a ceremonial, nor a common law marriage, and no marriage license,” the motion states.
However, a motion filed by Smolen calls her Terence Crutcher’s spouse. The couple lived together for 16 years and had three children. Terence Crutcher raised Frenchel Johnson’s son, now 17, as his own.
Crutcher’s parents are requesting that they be assigned to serve as special administrators of his estate.
Smolen, with the law firm Smolen Smolen & Roytman, held a press conference Monday afternoon to raise multiple issues that his firm is looking into to determine whether to file a lawsuit against the city following the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher.
Johnson was present at the conference but didn’t speak.
First, Smolen discussed whether the Tulsa Police Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and whether they made proper accommodations for Terence Crutcher. Smolen said he will also look into claims of excessive force by Tulsa police and whether Tulsa has a systematic problem regarding excessive force against African-Americans.
He pointed to an analysis reported by The Frontier last week that found Tulsa police were four times as likely to use force on black people compared to their use of force against white people.
Smolen also called on the Tulsa Police Department to release any additional evidence related to the case.
Smolen said he wanted an explanation of whether Shelby had the ability to record the shooting, if any additional footage of the incident exists and if not, why Shelby was not following protocol.
A Tulsa Police Department spokeswoman said she could not comment on the investigation.
There are five ways Shelby could have activated her video-recording device, Smolen said.
The first way would be to press the on-screen button on the officer’s in-car mobile computer, according to department policy. An officer could also press the red record button on the back of the primary in-car camera.
Another way an officer could record an incident is by moving the emergency equipment switch position to “2” on the light/siren control box.
Shelby’s dash cam was not functioning during the shooting. Tulsa police vehicles work on a three-toggle system. When the switch is flipped to “level one,” as Shelby’s car was that evening, only the lights in the rear window are active and the siren and camera remains off.
An officer could also press the red button on his or her personal microphone module worn on the officer’s’ belt or person.
The last way an officer’s recording device is triggered is when the patrol car is bumped or collided with, according to department policies.
Smolen also said the Tulsa Police Department should release helicopter logs that might show why Shelby’s husband, Dave Shelby, was in a police helicopter during the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher while Shelby was patrolling on the ground.
Dave Shelby was not the pilot, but an “observer” who sits in the helicopter and reviews video feed.
Shelby’s husband being the observer in the helicopter during the incident could be a coincidence, but it did “seem odd,” Smolen said. He also wanted to know whether it was a common practice.
Shelby was placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting, but was switched to unpaid after being charged with first-degree manslaughter on Thursday.
There are two investigations into the shooting. One by the Tulsa Police Department’s homicide unit and another by the United States Department of Justice, which is looking into whether Crutcher’s civil rights were violated during the fatal shooting.