TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An unarmed black man shot dead in the middle of a street by a white Oklahoma police officer had run-ins with the law dating back to his teenage years and had recently served four years in prison.
But those closest to Terence Crutcher described him as a church-going father who was beginning to turn his life around. After marking his 40th birthday with his twin sister last month, Crutcher sent her a text that read, “I’m gonna show you, I’m gonna make you all proud.”
Crutcher was due to start a music appreciation class at a local community college on Friday, the day he was fatally shot by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby after she responded to a report of a vehicle abandoned in the road.
The shooting was captured in graphic detail by a police helicopter and a cruiser dashcam, though it’s not clear from that footage what led Shelby to draw her gun or what orders officers gave Crutcher. An attorney for Crutcher’s family said Crutcher committed no crime and gave officers no reason to shoot.
Shelby was put on paid administrative leave while local and federal officials investigate the shooting.
Crutcher’s criminal history includes a 1995 arrest in nearby Osage County in which officers reported that they saw him fire his weapon out a vehicle window. Records obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday show that when Crutcher was ordered to exit the vehicle for a pat-down search, he began making a movement to his right ankle before an officer managed to get control of Crutcher. A .25-caliber pistol was found in his right sock, the arresting officer wrote in an affidavit.
Crutcher eventually entered a no-contest plea to charges of carrying a weapon and resisting an officer, and he received suspended sentences, court records show.
Oklahoma prison officials confirmed Tuesday that Crutcher also served four years in prison from 2007 to 2011 on a Tulsa County drug trafficking conviction.
Court records show officers used force against Crutcher on at least four separate occasions, including a 2012 arrest on public intoxication and obstruction complaints. In that case, an officer used a stun gun on Crutcher twice while he was face down on the ground because the officer said Crutcher didn’t comply with at least three orders to show his hands, according to a police affidavit. Crutcher’s father showed up while he was being arrested and told the officers that his son had “an ongoing problem” with the drug PCP, the affidavit states.
“Nobody claimed that he was a perfect individual. Who is perfect? But that night he was not a criminal,” said Melvin Hall, an attorney for Crutcher’s family, regarding Crutcher’s criminal record. “He did not have any warrants. He had not done anything wrong. He had a malfunctioning vehicle, and he should have been treated accordingly.”
Neighbors remembered Crutcher as being friendly and generous. They said he lived with four young children, cooked big barbecue meals that he’d share with neighbors and belted out hymns in his driveway — fine-tuning the songs before performing them at church.
The Rev. Willie Lauderdale, pastor at the Gethsemane Baptist Church near Crutcher’s home, said Crutcher wasn’t a member of the congregation but would come sing some Sundays.
“I called him ‘Crutch,”‘ Lauderdale said Wednesday.
Camellia Bryant, who lives across the street from Crutcher’s modest single-story house, said her children and Crutcher’s had routine sleepovers. She said he was soft-spoken but well-known throughout the neighborhood.
Another neighbor, Melrita Gilliam, said she would see Crutcher drink beer or tequila occasionally “but he always kept it at home” and didn’t drive after drinking.
“I never seen him raging or nothing out there,” she said.
On Friday, two 911 calls describing an SUV that had been abandoned in the middle of the road preceded the fatal encounter between Crutcher and the police. One unidentified caller said the vehicle’s driver was acting strangely, adding, “I think he’s smoking something.”
Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker told the Tulsa World that investigators found a vial of PCP in Crutcher’s SUV, but he declined to say where in the vehicle they found it or whether they had determined if Crutcher had used it Friday evening. Police said a toxicology report could take several weeks.
Attorneys for Crutcher’s family said the family didn’t know whether drugs were found in the SUV, but that even if they were, it wouldn’t justify police shooting him.
PCP or phencyclidine can cause slurred speech, loss of coordination and a sense of strength or invulnerability, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. At high doses, it can cause hallucinations and paranoia.
Police video shows Crutcher walking toward his SUV stopped in the middle of the road. His hands are up and a female officer is following him. As Crutcher approaches the driver’s side, more officers arrive and Crutcher appears to lower his hands and place them on the vehicle before the officers surround him.
Crutcher can be seen dropping to the ground. Someone on the police radio says, “I think he may have just been tasered.” Then almost immediately, someone can be heard yelling, “Shots fired!” and Crutcher is left lying in the street.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan has said Crutcher had no weapon on him or in his SUV.
Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, said Crutcher wasn’t following the officers’ commands and that Shelby was concerned because he kept reaching for his pocket as if he had a weapon.
“He has his hands up and is facing the car and looks at Shelby, and his left hand goes through the car window, and that’s when she fired her shot,” Wood told the Tulsa World.
But attorneys for Crutcher’s family dispute that claim. An enlarged photo from the police footage presented by them appears to show that Crutcher’s window was rolled up.
Local and federal investigations are underway to determine whether Crutcher’s civil rights were violated and whether Shelby should face charges.
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