OKLAHOMA CITY– In the wake of the Betty Shelby trial, which revealed serious incidents of misconduct by multiple members of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), as well as the news that Officer Shelby will remain a member of the TPD, the ACLU of Oklahoma stands in solidarity with the family and friends of Terence Crutcher, as well as the larger community, as we continue to lament his horrific death at the hands of law enforcement. We are calling today for immediate, concrete action to address the Department’s failure to maintain the minimal ethical and policy standards required to protect the citizens of Tulsa.
TPD’s lead homicide Detective, David Walker, admitted under oath to allowing Officer Shelby to review video evidence with her attorney before taking her statement concerning her killing of Mr. Crutcher. By doing so, he effectively destroyed critical evidence in the case–namely Officer Shelby’s actual first-person perception of what happened at the scene that day and why. To make matters worse, Field Supervisor Corporal Wyatt Poth admitted to advising Shelby “not to say a word” as the killing she committed was being investigated, a remarkable statement given that almost every other criminal suspect is usually encouraged by law enforcement to cooperate fully with a criminal investigation; not to keep quiet and lawyer up. In addition, no steps were ever taken to discipline or retrain the other officers that were present immediately before and after the shooting, who did nothing to render aid to Mr. Crutcher as he lay dying in the street.
The continued employment of Officer Shelby, as well as the officers who failed to take life-saving actions on the scene of Terence Crutcher’s death; the failure to publicly condemn the dehumanization and racial-profiling of Mr. Crutcher prior to and during his interactions with TDP officers; and the apparent absence of any substantive changes to the training or protocol that allowed for this killing in the first place call into question whether Tulsans, especially Tulsans of color, can trust the Tulsa Police Department to protect and serve.
“Considering the violence, the willful disregard for human life, overt evidence of racism, and policies and protocols that allow these conditions to persist, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone should trust the Tulsa Police Department to keep Tulsans, particularly Tulsans of color, safe,” said Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director at the ACLU of Oklahoma. “If the Tulsa Police Department hopes to restore community trust, there are immediate and necessary steps they can take, but instead Tulsans are being subjected to a tone deaf department too focused on rhetoric and token gestures.”
The Tulsa Police Department has been a consistent voice in favor of community policing. The Department’s actions and inactions, however, are wildly inconsistent with their mission of establishing trust between their officers and the communities they serve. If TPD truly wishes to promote community policing, they must immediately take action to address the misconduct exposed during Betty Shelby’s trial, as well as the deeply troubling actions of the officers who witnessed, but did nothing to stop, Terence Crutcher’s death.
“By allowing these officers to remain on the force, and allowing Betty Shelby to return to work as a police officer, the Department has effectively endorsed the actions of these officers,” said Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director. “Their continued employment and a lack of any departmental reform is a declaration that the force has nothing to learn from Terence Crutcher’s senseless killing. This is cause for serious alarm.”
“If no department policies were violated here—where officers shot and killed a man who posed no threat, allowed him to bleed to death in the street without rendering aid, and interfered with the integrity of an active homicide investigation— then the Tulsa Police Department must immediately address whether any of their policies meet their mission of keeping the people of Tulsa safe,” said Ryan Kiesel. “With mounting evidence that the Department is engaged in unethical behavior, the burden is now on the Tulsa Police Department to demonstrate clearly how any Tulsan, but especially Tulsa’s communities of color, can feel safe or protected by such a police force.”