When Terence Crutcher’s mother heard the news, she broke down and cried.
Many of her family members were at the funeral home making arrangements to bury Terence, when news broke that Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer who shot and killed their loved one, would be charged with first-degree manslaughter.
But Leanna Crutcher was at home when she found out what had happened.
“She let out a yell and went to the ground,” Crutcher family attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said. “Her relatives had to grab her and hug her and she said she felt a great weight come off her. Just for (the District Attorney’s Office) to even acknowledge that what happened to her son was wrong was a big step.”
But Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s twin sister, said the family still has a heavy heart.
Tiffany said her brother was a good man who deserved a better fate than he got that night, when Shelby shot him once in the chest, leaving him dead on the street.
“While we are pleased to learn that the officer who senselessly killed my beloved twin brother will face criminal charges for this horrendous act, we understand that nothing will bring back our father, our son, our brother, our nephew, our cousin,” she said during a press conference Thursday after charges against Shelby were announced.
Video from a backing officer’s dashboard cam and a helicopter hovering above captured part of the incident but important questions remain unanswered.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler’s decision to charge Shelby in Crutcher’s death came sooner than expected, perhaps due to the high-profile nature of the case. Kunzweiler said a warrant was being issued for her arrest and arrangements were being made to allow Shelby to surrender and be booked into jail.
Her attorney, Scott Wood, told NewsOn6 that Shelby left town due to death threats and would return to Tulsa to turn herself in Friday.
Shelby is the second Tulsa law enforcement officer in less than two years to be charged by Kunzweiler with an on-duty shooting, and Kunzweiler may be one of the few, if not the only, district attorneys in the country to have filed charges against two law enforcement officers in such incidents.
A jury convicted former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Robert Bates in April of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced him to four years. Bates was charged in the April 2015 death of Eric Harris, during a botched gun sting. Bates claimed he meant to use his Taser but instead fired his gun.
Harris’ shooting also sparked national outrage after release of the video, largely because when Harris said he couldn’t breathe, a deputy replied “fuck your breath.”
“I do not know why things happen in this world the way they do,” Kunzweiler said after he announced his office had charged Shelby. “We need to pray for wisdom and guidance on each of our respective paths in life. Each of us at the end of our days will have to account for our own actions.
“The only way I know how to walk my path is to try every day to pray and to serve my fellow citizens so that he or she may be lifted up.”
Bates was a volunteer reserve deputy and wealthy booster of former Sheriff Stanley Glanz who did not receive the required training to serve as an advanced reserve deputy.
We The People Oklahoma led a petition drive to empanel a grand jury to investigate Glanz and issues including his reserve deputy program. Glanz was indicted on two misdemeanors and resigned from office.
Crutcher’s funeral services are scheduled to be held Sunday and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton is expected to visit Tulsa Tuesday at the family’s request for an event he’s calling a National Day of Justice. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both condemned Crutcher’s killing.
Solomon-Simmons said during the press conference that while the family is pleased with the criminal charge, they know justice “is a long walk.”
“When we saw that video we knew there was no reason for Terence to be shot down in the street,” Solomon-Simmmons said. “We knew that if (Tulsa Police) did their job and presented the evidence fairly and transparently to the DA’s office, it was readily apparent that officer Shelby had to be charged, because a crime had been committed.
“The family wants and deserves full justice, and full justice requires not just charges but a vigorous prosecution and a conviction. This is a long walk, this is a long journey to justice.”
Crutcher was shot and killed by Shelby on Friday night near the intersection of 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue.
Crutcher was shot one time in the chest by Shelby as he stood near his SUV, parked in the middle of the street. Shelby, who has been with the department for nearly six years, was on the way to an unrelated call when she came upon Crutcher’s vehicle.
Police said Shelby reported that Crutcher had been acting erratically when she first spoke to him, and continued to put his hands in his pockets despite orders against doing so.
However, the early part of their encounter was not recorded. Shelby did not activate her dashboard camera, so video footage of the shooting only began when Tyler Turnbough, a backing officer, arrived on the scene.
His vehicle captured video of the shooting, as did a helicopter flying overhead. The video shows Crutcher with his hands up, slowly walking toward the vehicle as armed officers trail him. When Crutcher reached the vehicle, he appeared to make movements near the vehicle’s driver’s side window.
It was at that point that Crutcher was shot, both with a Taser and with Shelby’s duty weapon. Blood was almost immediately visible on his white T-shirt as he laid on the ground.
Police later announced that a small vial of PCP, a strong hallucinogen, was found in Crutcher’s vehicle. The 40-year-old musician had struggled with drugs, according to court records, but his attorneys have argued his behavior in the police-recorded videos does not show someone acting violent, threatening, or aggressive.
When police released the videos Monday, Chief Chuck Jordan said he supported protests and rallies, but asked protesters to remain peaceful. Every night since has seen at least one rally or protest, and law enforcement officials have reported no issues.
Marq Lewis, leader of grassroots group We The People Oklahoma, said following Thursday’s announcement that he felt the last six days have been a testament to the importance of transparency. He compared Tulsa, and the peaceful protests held here, to Charlotte, N.C., and the violent protests there in the wake of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
“What’s interesting is that this morning Charlotte … they haven’t even released the video,” Lewis said. “And I would view that in comparison to Tulsa. Tulsa has released the video and we also have charges.”
Kunzweiler mentioned the events in other cities during his speech, saying that “it is important to note that despite the heightened tensions felt by all which seemingly begged for an emotional response and reaction, our community has constantly demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process.”
Lewis said that, as a black Tulsan, he struggles with the reality of living in a community that has seen men like Crutcher this year, and Eric Harris last year, killed by police officers. Yet he’s thankful to live in a community that has held those officers responsible.
“There’s both emotions,” Lewis said. “There’s saying ‘OK, this happened,’ but we can also say that our system worked for us.”
Shelby’s charge of first-degree manslaughter carries a sentence of four years to life. It’s an 85 percent crime, meaning if convicted, she would have to serve 85 percent of her sentence before being eligible for parole.