TULSA, Okla. — 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 recently served four years in prison.
But those closest to Terence Crutcher described him as a church-going father who was starting 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 Friday, the day Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby fatally shot him outside his abandoned SUV.
The shooting was captured by a police helicopter and a cruiser dashcam, though it’s not clear from the 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.
Crutcher had been arrested in the past. In 1995 in nearby Osage County, officers said they saw him fire a weapon out a vehicle window. Records show Crutcher was ordered to exit the vehicle for a pat-down search and began making a movement to his right ankle before an officer managed to get control of him. A .25-caliber pistol was found in his right sock, according to an affidavit.
Crutcher received suspended sentences after entering a no-contest plea to charges of carrying a weapon and resisting an officer, court records show.
Oklahoma prison officials confirmed 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, a police affidavit states. 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 Crutcher family attorney Melvin Hall 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 described Crutcher as friendly and generous. They said he lived with four young children, cooked barbecue meals that he’d share with others and often belted out gospel songs in his driveway.
The Rev. Willie Lauderdale, whose church is near Crutcher’s home, said Crutcher wasn’t a member but would come sing some Sundays.
Camellia Bryant said her children and Crutcher’s would have sleepovers. She said he was known throughout the neighborhood.
Crutcher would drink alcohol sometimes “but he always kept it at home” and didn’t drive, Melrita Gilliam said.
Lauderdale said: “I never seen him raging or nothing out there.”
Two 911 calls before the shooting described an SUV abandoned in the middle of the road. One caller said the vehicle’s driver was acting strangely, adding, “I think he’s smoking something.”
Sgt. Dave Walker confirmed Tuesday that investigators found a vial of PCP in Crutcher’s SUV. 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 the shooting.
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.
“To try and come now with some bogus justification, to say that he had PCP — well, let’s look at the video,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking alongside Crutcher’s family Wednesday in New York.
“We saw his hands up. We didn’t see what was in the car, and it has nothing to do with the actions taken because the officers couldn’t see what was in the car,” Sharpton said. “His hands were up as his father has instructed young black men in Tulsa to do.”
The police video shows Crutcher walking with his hands in the air toward his SUV that was in the middle of the road. A female officer is following him. As Crutcher approaches the driver’s side, more officers walk up and Crutcher appears to lower his hands and place them on the vehicle.
The officers surround him and suddenly he drops to the ground. Someone on the police radio says, “I think he may have just been tasered.” Then almost immediately, a woman’s voice yells on the police radio: “Shots fired!” 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, told the Tulsa World that Crutcher wasn’t following 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 said.
Attorneys for Crutcher’s family dispute that, pointing to an enlarged photo from police footage that appears to show Crutcher’s window was rolled up.
Local and federal investigators are trying to determine whether Shelby should face charges and whether Crutcher’s civil rights were violated.
This story has been corrected to show that the quote about not seeing Crutcher ‘raging’ was from Lauderdale, not Gilliam.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.