Two days after police in Oklahoma released video that shows a white Tulsa police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man, members of the slain man’s family pushed back against lingering suggestions that Terence Crutcher was a dangerous and erratic individual who posed a serious threat to the officers who encountered him.
Those suggestions began, family members told CNN, the moment an officer in a helicopter overhead referred to the 40-year-old father as a “big bad dude” seconds before Crutcher was fatally shot.
“He was my compassionate son,” Crutcher’s mother, Leanna, said in an interview with CNN on Facebook Live. “No one could ever do anything that would turn him away from being their friend. He loved people.”
“That big, bad dude mattered,” added Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany.
The Crutchers described their deceased relative as a devoted Christian and loving father to his three daughters, ages 15, 15 and 12, as well as his one son, who is 4.
“Terence said he was going to make it big as a gospel singer,” his father told CNN.
“We want this officer to be charged with first-degree murder, premeditated murder,” he added.
The family’s statements arrived a day after a police official told the Tulsa World that officers discovered PCP in Crutcher’s vehicle.
Tulsa homicide Sgt. Dave Walker declined to say where the drug was found in the vehicle or if investigators had confirmed whether Crutcher was intoxicated during his interaction with police.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing the Crutcher family, said reports linking Crutcher to drugs were an attempt to “intellectually justify” Crutcher’s death.
“If we started to condemn everybody to death who had drugs in their system, all of our neighborhoods would be affected,” he said Tuesday, calling on Tulsa police to be transparent so the public knows that authorities are “not trying to cover this up or sweep it under the rug.”
Crutcher’s death, already one of the nation’s dominant news stories, gained an even higher profile after police shot and killed a black man in Charlotte on Tuesesday afternoon, sparking violent protests overnight.
At a conference Wednesday in Washington, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the shooting in Tulsa — and Tuesday’s in Charlotte — again laid bare friction between law enforcement officials and the communities they police.
“These tragic incidents have once again left Americans with feelings of sorrow, anger and uncertainty,” Lynch said after Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
“They have once again highlighted — in the most vivid and painful terms — the real divisions that still persist in this nation between law enforcement and communities of color.”
Crutcher and Scott are two of at least 698 people — 173 of them black men — who have been fatally shot by police officers this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking police shootings.
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.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing Crutcher’s family released photos they said contradict a key claim in authorities’ version of events.
Crump — a civil rights lawyer who has represented many families of those killed in high-profile police shootings — said Crutcher never reached his hands into the driver’s side window of his stalled sport-utility vehicle before he was shot by police.
Crutcher couldn’t have reached into the vehicle, Crump said, because enhanced photos of the vehicle taken from police video show that the window was rolled up.
The scene after an unarmed black man was fatally shot by a Tulsa police officer
Holding up several large images taken from the video of the shooting, Crump told reporters, “when you look at this video — we have technicians that have enhanced the video and stopped the video — you can see clearly that the window is up and there’s a streak of blood on the window,” he said. “How could he be reaching into the car if the window is up and there is blood on the glass?”
“Again, we do not believe — regardless of whether the window as up or down — that this shooting was justified. This was clearly a case of excessive force,” he added.
Police have previously said responding officers thought Crutcher reached his hand into the vehicle moments before officers shot and tased the 40-year-old father. The claim was repeated by attorney Scott Wood, who is representing Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa police officer who fatally shot Crutcher.
Crump’s claims arrived a day after police released video that shows Shelby fatally shooting Crutcher — 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 Crutcher or in his vehicle after he was killed Friday as he stood beside his SUV. Crutcher died at a hospital later that evening.
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.
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. 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.
Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, told the Tulsa World that Shelby opened fire and another officer used a stun gun when Crutcher’s “left hand goes through the car window.”
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 told the Associated Press that Shelby had a stun gun when she shot Crutcher, but did not use it.
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.”
“I didn’t expect the video to be this troubling, but it is troubling,” said Ray Owens, a pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church. “The officer who shot and killed Terence said he refused to show his hands. The video footage, however, shows him with hands in the air, he walks away from the police at a slow pace, leans against the car, and that is when he was shot.”
Owens said that the group of leaders gathered in the room were shocked by what they had seen, especially because it appeared that officers did not render aid to the dying man for more than a minute after he was shot.
“We asked questions of the police officers and the chief of police, who was there,” Owens said. “And there didn’t seem to be a real good explanation for why police would not have rendered medical aid for so long.”
“He needed help, he needed a hand. And what he got was a bullet in the lungs,” Crump said.
Crump compared the shooting to that of Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina and Corey Jones in Florida, both cases that began with a black man having his car break down only to end up shot dead by an officer.
“What was Terence Crutcher’s crime?” Crump asked. “When unarmed people of color break down on the side of the road, we’re not treated as citizens needing help, we’re treated as criminals, as suspects.”
Tiffany Crutcher demanded Monday that charges be pressed immediately against the “incompetent” officer who killed her brother.
In April, 74-year-old Robert Bates, an insurance executive who served as a reserve sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter by a jury after he was caught on camera killing Harris.
Jurors needed only three hours to find Bates guilty. His lawyer blamed “negative press” for the verdict.
The insurance executive had pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Harris, the unarmed black man he killed during an undercover operation a year earlier. Moments after shooting Harris, Bates could be heard on camera saying that he shot Harris after mistakenly reaching for his gun instead of his stun gun after chasing him on foot.
According to the Tulsa World, Bates’s lawyer called a psychiatrist to testify that Bates “mistakenly shooting Harris was reasonable given the stress of the situation, and before closing arguments jurors were instructed on the statutory requirements for ‘excusable homicide.’ ” Jurors didn’t buy the argument, agreeing with prosecutors after the 1½-week trial that Bates was guilty of criminal negligence.
Andre Harris, the brother of the slain man, said four years in prison would “teach [Bates] a lesson,” the newspaper reported. “That place ain’t that nice,” he told reporters. “He said he hopes Bates learns that all lives matter, and he said Bates should not have been on a drug task force chasing supposedly deadly criminals,” the newspaper reported. “Not at 73.”
This post, originally published on Sept. 19, has been updated.