Standing in a hallway of the Tulsa County District Courthouse with cameras crowded around her, tears pooled in Frenchel Johnson’s eyes as she talked about her children and the death of her late husband, Terence Crutcher.
“It’s not over money. I just feel like it’s so wrong,” Johnson said. “I just want what’s right for me and my kids. I’m not trying to cut his mom and dad out of anything. I never said that.”
Johnson spoke with reporters Friday afternoon after a hearing over who would be appointed special administrator of Terence Crutcher’s estate. But that issue won’t be settled until at least next month.
Until the family of Terence Crutcher settles in court who will serve as special administrator of his estate, a neutral party has been appointed. Tulsa attorney Austin Bond as interim special administrator for the estate and, at least temporarily, removed Crutcher’s common-law wife, Frenchel Johnson.
A judge appointed Johnson as administrator on Sept. 23, and the Rev. Joey and Leanna Crutcher filed a motion Monday seeking to rescind that order. Johnson filed a response Thursday disputing the motion, saying she is the lawful person to represent the estate.
Terence Crutcher, 40, was fatally shot by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby on Sept. 16. Video recorded from an officer’s dashboard camera and a police helicopter show Crutcher walking away from Shelby toward his SUV with his hands up before he was shot.
Shelby appeared in court briefly Friday morning and pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree manslaughter in the Terence Crutcher killing.
The issue of who serves as administrator of the estate is important because only the administrator will have legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the city in Terence Crutcher’s death. And about $166,000 has been raised in a GoFundMe account intended to benefit his children.
The Frontier has asked attorneys for the Crutchers for additional information about how funds in the GoFundMe account have been spent. Initially, funds were to be sent to the Terrence Crutcher estate in care of attorney Benjamin Crump, a Florida-based attorney who represents the family.
Crump has also represented families in numerous high-profile police shooting cases, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.
At the hearing, Glassco will hear testimony surrounding the issue of whether Johnson was Crutcher’s common-law wife.
After the hearing Friday, Johnson became emotional outside the courtroom as she spoke to reporters.
With the dispute over the estate and the question of who should have guardianship of the children, there hasn’t been time to grieve, she said.
“There’s so much stuff going on and nobody know how I feel,” Johnson said. “I loved my husband, and I always will. His family knows that. I just don’t understand.”
In their motion arguing that Johnson is ineligible to serve as special administrator of the estate, the couple said 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.
The motion says Johnson didn’t disclose that she is a convicted felon and claims that disqualifies her from representing the estate. It refers to her as “ineligible and incompetent.”
However, Johnson’s attorney, Dan Smolen, said he did disclose Johnson’s status as a convicted felon to Glassco during the earlier hearing.
Records show Johnson was convicted in three separate cases of driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007.
She faces an assault and battery charge stemming from a dispute with her neighbor in which Johnson allegedly brandished a knife. A police affidavit says Johnson refused to drop the knife and was Tased during the incident.
Smolen said Johnson was on her own front porch when her neighbor came into the yard and threatened her. The charge alleges that Johnson stabbed her neighbor but the police affidavit that is the basis of the charge does not say that.
In a response to the Crutcher family’s motion filed Thursday, Johnson requests that her uncle, Win Case be appointed special administrator for the estate. Case is a basketball coach at Middle Tennessee State University.
It also states that Johnson was never married to their son.
“There was neither a ceremonial, nor a common-law marriage, and no marriage license,” the motion states.
Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents Terence Crutcher’s parents, asked Glassco to order Johnson to stop using the Crutcher name until she legally changes her last name.
Johnson’s name has appeared as “Johnson-Crutcher” in court filings. Johnson never went by Crutcher until recently, Solomon-Simmons said.
Glassco denied the request because “any person can use any name.”
During the hearing, Smolen referenced tape-recorded statements by Joey Crutcher saying his family recognized his late-son’s common-law marriage.
In a conversation last week at Smolen’s office, Joey Crutcher called Johnson his daughter-in-law, saying he requested the meeting, which also included his wife, Johnson and a friend of Johnson’s.
“They are married .… This has been his wife for 15 years and we recognize her as our daughter-in-law,” Joey Crutcher said.
Another issue is who has legal custody of Johnson’s and Crutcher’s three minor children.
The motion filed by Crutcher’s parents also states they had physical and legal custody of their children for most of their lives.
After the hearing Friday, Johnson said her children are confused because they haven’t been
with her since their father died.
Glassco also appointed an attorney for the children Friday to represent their interests.
In the response to the Crutcher family’s motion, Johnson disputed the marriage and custody claims, saying she had a common-law marriage to Terence Crutcher, lived with him for 16 years and that she raised her children for the “majority of their lives.”
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.
The response also notes that Johnson has a wedding ring from her husband with their names engraved in the band.
After the hearing, Solomon-Simmons told reporters he was pleased the court appointed an interim special administrator to the estate.
“What the court decided by vacating Ms. Johnson as the special administrator, we think that is the right decision,” he said.
“That’s what we came here to have happen, and we look forward to continuing to represent this family and these children to make sure they get justice.”