District Attorney’s Office, Tulsa police look ahead after tensions caused by Betty Shelby trial

'They don’t have to like us. But, by golly, we have a job to do, so I think that will continue.'
Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker, on the relationship between the police and the District Attorney's Office.

Donate

Following the not-guilty verdict in the Betty Shelby trial, the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police isn’t closing the book on its dissent with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office over the handling of the case.

The union’s opposition toward the District Attorney’s Office arose after Shelby was charged last September, six days after she fatally shot Terence Crutcher.

The FOP, along with the Tulsa Police Department’s lead investigator into the incident, have been critical of the move, saying the office rushed to bring charges that shouldn’t have been filed in the first place.

The division is new territory for the union, and it’s unclear what the relationship between the DA and the FOP will look like moving forward, Jerad Lindsey, Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police chairman, said Thursday.

The FOP vocally opposed the charges both prior to the trial and during it, posting several videos to its Facebook page claiming that Shelby was innocent.

Jerad Lindsey, Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police chairman, speaks during a press conference earlier this month in which he announced the FOP had filed an ethics complaint against District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. KASSIE MCCLUNG/The Frontier

The FOP filed an ethics complaint against Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler on May 3, alleging the charges against Shelby were brought “unfairly and unethically.’ The union also published a video on Facebook in support of Shelby showing how quickly someone could pull a gun out of a car and fire it.

Police and Kunzweiler say they agree the working relationship between the two agencies will be maintained.

Though no one would speak strongly about the fractured relationship, Lindsey pointed to a lack of trust.

“We’ve never found ourselves in a situation like this. Never, ever,” Lindsey said. “(Kunzweiler is) a professional, we’re professionals. We’re going to continue to be professional.

“And we’re going to do the best that we can for citizens of the Tulsa community with operating with a complete lack of trust.” Despite the dissent, Lindsey added, the two agencies will continue to work together.

Regardless, the FOP will pursue the ethics complaint against Kunzweiler, Lindsey said.

‘We don’t have to like each other’
Kunzweiler filed charges against Shelby on Sept. 22, 2016, six days after the Crutcher shooting.

The district attorney announced the charges at a news conference that day. TPD Sgt. Dave Walker, the lead investigator into the shooting, has said he didn’t know charges were being announced until a reporter called him and that they were being filed before Walker had finished his investigation into the incident.

During an impromptu news conference on Thursday, Walker said Kunzweiler was wrong to charge Shelby without telling him first and before the investigation was complete.

“It was wrong, I told him that night,” he said. “It was wrong to do it without me.”

Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker speaks with reporters Thursday after Terence’s Crutcher’s family called for his resignation. KASSIE MCCLUNG/The Frontier

Walker made similar statements during testimony in Shelby’s trial. He testified Kunzweiler didn’t consult with him before the charges were filed, although, he said, he didn’t know whether the district attorney spoke with someone higher in command at the department.

Kunzweiler has maintained that TPD investigators were showing him pieces of their report as they were completing it and felt more than comfortable charging Shelby when he did. During testimony, Walker confirmed the district attorney had portions of the report.

During Shelby’s trial, prosectors frequently hammered home the point that she got special treatment following the shooting because she was a police officer. She was shown video of the shooting before her interview with Walker, which didn’t happen until three days after the incident. 

Walker has denied Shelby got preferential treatment and said Police Department policy mandated Shelby had the right to see any existing video before the interview.

In a statement on Thursday, Kunzweiler said his office filed thousands of cases last year, all involving different victims.

“I am confident that prosecutors and law enforcement will focus their attention, as they should, on each of those individual victim cases and will work towards jointly accomplishing the justice which those victims are entitled to,” Kunzweiler said. “Our public should expect nothing less.”

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan echoed the district attorney’s sentiment in a statement issued Friday.

“We work for the citizens of Tulsa and whatever relationships we need to maintain to function successfully, we will always do that,” Jordan said.

On Thursday, after the Crutcher family called for Walker’s termination because of how he handled the shooting investigation, Kunzweiler issued a statement defending Walker.

“Sgt. Walker and his team work tirelessly for our city and our community, and he is well qualified to continue in his present job,” Kunzweiler said. “I adamantly disagree with any call for his resignation.”

Walker meanwhile said he agrees that there is still a working relationship between the TPD and the DA’s Office. In fact, officers met with Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray, a prosecutor in Shelby’s trial, on Tuesday about a different murder case, he said on Thursday.

“We’re not school kids,” Walker said. “We’re not going to take our reports and go home. We don’t have to like each other, by any stretch of the imagination do we have to like each other.

“They don’t have to like us. But, by golly, we have a job to do, so I think that will continue.”

Ethics complaint

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler speaks at a press conference in September 2016, announcing that his office had filed first-degree manslaughter charges against Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

At the time the FOP filed its ethics complaint, Kunzweiler called it a “distraction” from the the trial, as it was filed less than a week before it began.

Lindsey said the union has yet to hear from the Oklahoma Bar Association on whether it will open an investigation into the matter.

Mackenzie McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the state’s Bar Association, said in an email the organization wouldn’t comment on pending grievances.

Lindsey said he believes the way the District Attorney’s Office handled Shelby’s case was “shocking.” He was also critical of the fact charges were filed before TPD completed its own investigation into the shooting.

Lindsey, who is also the FOP’s political action committee chairman, said although the union hasn’t yet taken an official stance, the DA’s actions could impact whether the FOP endorses Kunzweiler for re-election in 2018.

“I’m upset with the guy and actions in this case, but by no means does that mean that I under-appreciate the vast amount of work and high quality of most work that comes out of that office,” Lindsey said.

It is unknown who will run in the district attorney’s race.

“I don’t know if there would be anyone else who would want to run (for district attorney),” Lindsey said. “If there is, we will evaluate that at that time, weighing all factors.

“And I’m sure (Shelby’s case) would be one of those factors.”

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Contact: Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044.
Donate