Tulsa Police Department emails show fear of riots after Terence Crutcher shooting
TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) -- Almost immediately after the deadly shooting of Terence Crutcher, Tulsa police were preparing for protests and riots that have followed similar officer-involved shootings across the country.
On Thursday, Tulsa's Channel 8 received hundreds of pages of interoffice emails from the Tulsa Police Department in response to an open records request regarding the investigation. Among the files is a directive to officers who the department thought may be in danger should civil unrest erupt upon the release of video of the shooting.
On Sept. 16, Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Crutcher who was standing outside his stalled SUV in the middle of a north Tulsa street. Shelby says she feared for her life, believing Crutcher to be high on PCP -- a suspicion later confirmed by the medical examiner and toxicology tests -- but police video of the incident called into question whether the 40-year-old father of four was a threat with his arms raised above his head. Police Chief Chuck Jordan announced days later that Crutcher was unarmed when he was killed.
Shelby was quickly charged with first-degree manslaughter. An investigator for the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office said Shelby became too emotional and overreacted to the situation. She has pleaded not guilty.
One day after the shooting, police knew there would be a backlash. In a document dated Sept. 17, Sgt. David Walker, lead homicide detective, writes that "the public relation fall out from this will be problematic as the helicopter and the in car camera of Officer (Tyler) Turnbough shows that Mr. Crutcher has his hands up albeit walking away from Officer Shelby," whose gun was already pulled.
Walker also writes that it took more than two minutes before anyone began administering first aid to Crutcher.
Another email details the interviews of two witnesses, one of whom said she saw Crutcher in the middle of the road and asked multiple times if he was OK. The witness told police at one point Crutcher ran from the car, yelling that it was going to blow up. According to the email, the same witnesses returned to the scene 10 minutes later and saw Crutcher yelling, "It is on fire." That's when she called 911.
The second witness also said she saw Crutcher's vehicle in the middle of the road, telling police he was walking funny and she thought he was on drugs.
According to another email, both witnesses told officers they thought Crutcher was on PCP.
Neither of the witnesses' 911 calls, however, were relayed to police who arrived at the scene. Shelby was en route to another call when she encountered Crutcher.
According to the initial investigation report, which was included in the emails we received through our records request, neither Shelby's body microphone nor her dash camera were activated, and the body mic of another officer on scene malfunctioned.
According to the emails, TPD supervisors had a meeting two days before the shooting and body mics were discussed.
"I just spoke at the supervisor's meeting Wednesday about the necessity of ensuring body mics are operational," writes Major Wendell Franklin. "This glaring deficiency will be te catalyst to protests."
Franklin then said every officer's body mic must be inspected for functionality before patrol and asked for a report on those inspected before the next staff meeting.
"Here we are with that TPD mentality, reacting instead of getting ahead," writes Franklin.
In the days following the shooting, Tulsa police remained on high alert, prepared for things to turn violent. The department increased patrols in specific areas of Tulsa and monitored social media.
Among the 473 pages of documents turned over by TPD were copies of handwritten threats against the police. In response, officers doubled up on shifts, worked overtime, were armed with extra pepperball and beanbag rounds and communicated with the military in case backup was needed. At one point, TPD deactivated its Twitter page after receiving what they described as an "overwhelming volume of violent and profane posts."
But the demonstrations never turned violent and the threats, thankfully, never came to fruition, something many attribute to transparency by TPD administration and other city leaders.