It’s not clear what happened in the last few fateful moments but some facts are undisputed. Crutcher was unarmed, Tulsa’s police chief admitted yesterday, and had no weapon in his car. He had his hands up as he walked slowly away from the police and towards his SUV with an officer, Betty Shelby, trailing behind him. As he reached the driver-side door, Shelby and another officer stopped a few feet behind the SUV and trained their pistols on him. They were joined by two more cops. Then things took a turn: At some point in the next few moments, as Crutcher stood beside the door, the second officer tasered him and then Shelby fired one shot at him, killing him.
Why was Crutcher’s SUV in the middle of the road? The Times says Shelby responded to the scene after “after the police received reports of an abandoned vehicle blocking a road”:
In an interview, Officer Shelby’s lawyer, Scott Wood, said the officer had thought that Mr. Crutcher had a weapon. Mr. Wood said Mr. Crutcher had acted erratically, refused to comply with several orders, tried to put his hand in his pocket and reached inside his car window before he was shot.
Chief Jordan said Officer Shelby had encountered Mr. Crutcher and his vehicle while en route to another call and requested backup because she was “not having cooperation” from him. Officer Turnbough and his partner responded to Officer Shelby’s request for backup. It was the dashboard camera in their patrol car that recorded the shooting.
There are two recordings, one from a helicopter plus the dashboard cam video, both of which are featured in the clip below. Neither one is close enough, though, to give you a good idea of exactly what’s going on once Crutcher gets to the SUV, and the dashboard angle is obstructed by the group of cops gathered at the back of the vehicle. Did Crutcher reach through the window into the car — a police spokesman says he did — and did officers on the scene warn him specifically not to do that? If he’d been uncooperative to that point and “erratic,” the police may have thought he was on something (one of the cops in the chopper speculates about that during the clip) and worried that he was going for a gun. That would have been nuts with four cops ready to fire at him just feet away, but “erratic” people can do nutty things. Even so, Crutcher makes no sudden moves in the clip. His hands, as noted, are in the air. The cops had a nonlethal means of subduing him available, the taser, and they put it to use, raising the question of why Shelby felt obliged to shoot. Did the taser not bring him down? Even if it didn’t, with no hard evidence that Crutcher was armed, was Shelby obliged to at least catch a glimpse of a weapon before deciding to kill him, just in case?
The audio of what the cops said to Crutcher and what he said back may end up being more valuable than the video at trial, assuming that that audio exists. The DOJ has already opened an investigation into the shooting. Crutcher is survived by four kids.