Police in Oklahoma released video Monday that shows a white Tulsa police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man — footage that the city’s police chief called “very disturbing.”
“It’s very difficult to watch,” Police Chief Chuck Jordan said at a news conference Monday. “The first time I watched it, I watched it with the family. … We will do the right thing: We will not cover anything up.”
Jordan said investigators never found a weapon on Terence Crutcher or in his vehicle after the 40-year-old was killed Friday as he stood beside his stalled sport-utility vehicle. Crutcher died at a hospital later that evening.
U.S. Attorney Danny Williams announced that the Justice Department has opened an independent investigation of the shooting.
The footage from Tulsa is the latest in a series of controversial videos showing white police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men, and it promises to add a new chapter to an already bitter and divisive debate about race and policing in the United States.
Crutcher is one of at least 697 people — 172 of them black men — who have been fatally shot by police officers this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking police shootings.
For Tulsa, Friday’s deadly encounter is the second time in as many years that police have been involved in a controversial fatal shooting that was captured on video. On April 2, 2015, an undercover Tulsa sheriff’s operation went wrong — and a white reserve deputy sheriff shot and killed an unarmed black man, Eric Harris.
As has been the case in city after city following fatal police shootings, local officials called for calm Monday and promised transparency in the hopes of preempting civil unrest.
“Please maintain the peace,” Jordan urged.
The police chief’s plea was echoed by Tiffany Crutcher, the slain man’s twin sister.
“Just know that our voices will be heard,” she said, according to the Tulsa World. Noting that “the video will speak for itself,” she added: “Let’s protest. Let’s do what we have to do, but let’s just make sure that we do it peacefully.”
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the county courthouse in Tulsa to call for police reforms, the Associated Press reported: “Supporters held signs reading, ‘Justice 4 Crutch’ and ‘Relationships Matter.’ One young boy held up a sign that read ‘Don’t Shoot.’ ”
Jordan, the police chief, released few details about the shooting, but said that officers discovered an SUV running in the middle of the road with its doors open. He said that officers then encountered Crutcher, who the officers claim did not comply with their demands and appeared to reach into the vehicle.
Police spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie had earlier told reporters that two officers were walking toward the stalled SUV when Crutcher approached them from the side of the road.
“He refused to follow commands given by the officers,” MacKenzie said. “They continued to talk to him; he continued not to listen and follow any commands. As they got closer to the vehicle, he reached inside the vehicle and at that time there was a Taser deployment, and a short time later there was one shot fired.”
Video shows Crutcher walking toward his vehicle with his hands above his head while several officers follow closely behind him with weapons raised. He lingers at his vehicle’s driver’s side window, his body facing the SUV, before slumping to the ground a second later.
“Shots fired!” a female voice can be heard yelling.
Based on the video alone, it appears unclear who fired the fatal shot or why it was fired.
After Crutcher is hit, footage shows his limp body lying on the roadway beside his vehicle. Officers appear to wait more than 2½ minutes before approaching Crutcher while he bleeds in the street.
“It was reported that Terence died at the hospital; that is not true,” said Demario Solomon Simmons, one of the attorneys for Crutcher’s family. “Terence died on that street by himself.”
On Sunday, police released the names of the officers involved. Betty Shelby, who has been with the force since 2011, fired her service weapon, and officer Tyler Turnbough, who was hired in 2009, deployed his stun gun, police said. Both officers were placed on administrative leave with pay.
Attorney Scott Wood, who is representing Shelby, told the Tulsa World that when his client arrived at the scene, several minutes before the camera footage begins, she found Crutcher’s vehicle in the middle of the road with the engine on and the doors open. Shelby, he said, wasn’t “really sure what [was] going on,” Wood said.
Shelby thought Crutcher was behaving like someone under the possible influence of PCP, Wood told the World, noting that Crutcher ignored the officer’s commands to stop reaching into his pockets. Shelby feared Crutcher might have a gun in his pocket, because people carrying weapons repeatedly touch their pockets to confirm the weapon is still there, Wood added.
Shelby, he said, had already checked the driver’s side of the SUV when Crutcher approached her from the east. At that point, the attorney said, a backup officer arrived and drew his stun gun. Wood said the stun gun and service weapon were fired simultaneously.
Police showed the video to Crutcher’s family Sunday afternoon, and then to a group of local community leaders and ministers.
The Crutcher family and their attorneys were particularly angered by audio recordings of the responding officers, in which one describes Crutcher as a “bad dude.”
“We’re truly devastated; the entire family is devastated,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “That big bad dude was a father, that big bad dude was a son, that big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College just wanting to make us all proud, that big bad dude loved God, that big bad dude was in church singing with all of his flaws every week.”
She recalled celebrating their 40th birthday, on Aug. 16. On that day, he texted his twin sister to promise that he would complete his community college classes.
“I have his text message, and it said: ‘I’m going to show you. I’m going to make you all proud,’ ” she said. “And now he’ll never get that chance.”