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Is the Terence Crutcher shooting case really so simple?

Is the Terence Crutcher shooting case really so simple?

Video may not be dispositive.

Last Friday night a black man named Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by police officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The case has already received a lot of attention as one of a line of recent incidents in which an unarmed black person was killed by police, and Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan has called the video of the incident “very disturbing” and “very difficult to watch.”

It is quite early in this case, and experience has shown that what we know about it at this point is probably based on incomplete information mixed with at least a sprinkling of false information. So right now it’s not possible to come to any firm conclusions about what happened and whether Officer Shelby will face any legal liability for Crutcher’s death. Of course, that won’t stop many people from having very firm opinions about it.

With those caveats, here are some of the events and allegations so far:

(1) Two people had called police to say that a vehicle had halted in the street and was blocking traffic, and that the driver (who turned out to be Crutcher) was not in the car. When Officer Shelby arrived, she began to suspect, based on Crutcher’s somewhat vacant and non-responsive behavior, that he was under the influence of some substance that might have been PCP. PCP was later reported to have been found in his SUV, but this was after the incident rather than before.

(2) There has been no allegation that Crutcher ever attacked Shelby or the other officers who arrived when she called for backup. Nor has it been reported that he threatened them verbally or was aggressive in any way. He was intermittently cooperative and uncooperative with officers’ orders, such as (for example) the order to take his hands out of his pockets. Although he sometimes complied, he is alleged to have put his hands back into his pockets a few times, which aroused Officer Shelby’s suspicions that there might be a weapon there.

(3) Unfortunately there is no video or audio of the important early parts of the interaction between Clutcher and Officer Shelby, and the video of Crutcher’s hands during the all-important seconds just prior to the shooting, although taken from different angles, are difficult to see and analyze in part because there are many officers obscuring the sight (four were present in all, and they are quite close to Crutcher by that time). The video follows (video taken from this article):

And here is the helicopter view (most but not all of the voices you hear are from inside the helicopter):

(4) Around the same time that Officer Shelby fatally shot Crutcher, another officer had tased him, although it’s not clear whether these acts were simultaneous or not. Therefore it is possible that both officers were reacting to the same behavior on the part of Crutcher. That does not mean that their reactions were justified, but it does indicate they were reacting to something they perceived he was doing or not doing, which has been reported as the perception that he was reaching into the window of his SUV with his left hand. However, there are conflicting reports as to whether the driver’s side window that officers had perceived Crutcher as trying to reach into was actually open or closed at the time (here is a video of the Crutcher family’s lawyer making the claim that the window was closed).

(5) There has been no report as to what was being said by police to Crutcher as he was walking away, whether he responded, or whether there were any previous efforts to handcuff him or otherwise physically subdue him.

The Crutcher case is different from many other cases to which it bears a superficial resemblance. For example, unlike this case, there was no physical fight with police. Nor does it resemble the very well known Michael Brown (Ferguson) case, where Brown had grappled forcefully with Officer Wilson and tried to take his gun, then later came charging aggressively at him. Nor was it like the Tamir Rice case, in which a 195-pound 12-year-old was shot by police while brandishing an apparent gun that turned out to be a toy.

The lack of bodycam video makes the Crutcher case especially difficult to evaluate, and in the video of the final stages leading up to the shooting (already posted), the most vital moments are difficult to see and interpret. With the caveat that we don’t really know what occurred at the beginning, according to Officer Shelby it seems that Crutcher’s non-compliance, coupled with what she perceived as a move towards the supposedly open window of the vehicle, made her feel in danger from a possible gun.

Is that enough to justify the use of deadly force by the officer? Was the force she used commensurate with what a reasonable officer would have used under similar circumstances? These are unanswerable questions at the moment.

(6) Lack of compliance could be an issue.

Andrew Branca, our resident expert on the topic of self-defense, has rightly cautioned that non-compliance during police encounters such as traffic stops can rapidly escalate. Here he is describing what happened in the Sandra Bland case (Bland was taken into police custody during a traffic stop and later committed suicide, so her encounter with police was not a case of an officer using deadly force):

Once the officer has made a lawful stop he is permitted to take whatever steps may be reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of himself, the suspect, and the general public while the stop is taking place. This includes asking the driver of a stopped vehicle to step out of the vehicle, and would even authorize the officer to handcuff the suspect during the duration of the stop…

In the case of asking Bland to exit the vehicle, that again was consistent with officer safety, and perfectly acceptable law enforcement doctrine, as it separates the suspect from any weapons they may have concealed in an immediately accessible place inside the vehicle. Indeed, the officer is also permitted to search those easily accessible areas of the car for a prospective weapon, with no requirement for a search warrant…

In [Bland’s] case, the officer moved incrementally up the use-of-force continuum, consistent with the duration and intensity of Bland’s non-compliance, from simple verbal commands, to increasingly strident verbal commands, to warning of imminent non-deadly force, to threatening non-deadly force, to use of non-deadly force, to handcuffing and restraining the violently non-compliant suspect, and then (I’m speculating based on audio) using routine (albeit definitely painful) handcuff-control techniques on Bland as she continues to be non-compliant.

Bland, in turn, engages in explicitly criminal conduct in resisting the lawful arrest and committing a simple assault/battery on a law enforcement officer (e.g., kicking him).

Crutcher, unlike Bland, was not stopped for a traffic violation. When Shelby encountered him he was already outside his vehicle, which is alleged to have had some mechanical trouble. We lack knowledge of whether Shelby had “moved incrementally up the use-of-force continuum,” but as yet we have no evidence of an attempt at the use of non-deadly force until the tasering, which seems to have occurred more or less simultaneously with the shooting. Nor are there allegations of any prior attempts to handcuff him, although it must again be cautioned that we don’t have the full story.

It is certainly possible—even probable—that more evidence will come out that will change the way we look at this, including more audio or video or eyewitness testimony. Whether or not Terence Crutcher was under the influence of PCP has yet to be learned, but it is less relevant than his actual behavior and whether it justified Officer Shelby’s reaction, which should be judged by the standard of reasonableness—that is, what “a reasonable and prudent police officer” would do under “the same circumstances, with the same capabilities, possessing the same specialized knowledge, and under the same stresses.”

(7)  Crutcher’s return to the car was a potential threat based on common police training.

It is important to note the significance of Crutcher’s returning to his car. We don’t know what (if anything) he said, or what orders or warnings Shelby or any of the other officers made in order to impress on him the need to stop. But police are trained to be very aware of the dangers that can be involved in allowing a person to return to his/her vehicle, and this knowledge was likely to have influenced Officer Shelby when Crutcher began what turned out to be his final walk.

As Bob Owens at Bearing Arms notes, a well-known police training video on this subject involves the shooting of police officer Kyle Dinkheller, who was killed in 1998 by a man he had stopped for a speeding violation named Andrew Brannan. After demonstrating extreme verbal aggressiveness, and after being hit (but not subdued) by Officer Dinkheller with his baton, Brannan went back to his vehicle, got a rifle, and killed the officer (you can watch the video here if you would like; it’s very chilling).

The Dinkheller case is explained in detail in this article, which is a lengthy discussion of what went wrong during the confrontation and what other approaches might have prevented the escalation of the situation. There are many obvious differences between the Dinkheller case and what is reported to have occurred with Crutcher, but one very large difference is that Dinkheller waited a long time to use potentially deadly force on Brannan, who had established his verbal aggressiveness, yelled obscenities at Dinkheller, gone back to his vehicle, rooted around in it looking for something, brought the rifle out, loaded it, and refused to drop it when ordered. So the threat from Brannan was relatively slow in developing, and the deadly force from Dinkheller came late—too late, as it turned out.

Contrast that with the Crutcher case. An officer is not required to see a gun before he/she shoots in self-defense, but there must be some reasonable perception of a threat of serious harm, and it is not at all clear whether such a perception was present in the Crutcher shooting.

Owens writes:

When Terence Crutcher returned to his vehicle against the lawful commands of police, he put his life, the lives of officers, and everyone else at risk.

If you refuse to follow lawful commands just because you don’t feel like it and put officers in a situation where they have a reason to believe that you are reaching for a weapon or otherwise constituting a deadly force threat, you run the risk of being shot as Terence Crutcher was. Officers cannot determine if a suspect is armed or not until after the fact, and are authorized to use deadly force based on your actions, not on necessarily seeing a weapon.

It is not easy to make such decisions in the stress of the moment, and yet police officers must do so. React too slowly and you can end up dead. React too quickly or in the wrong situation and you can end up killing an innocent person, and perhaps getting convicted of a crime. But the difficulty and stress of the situation is not an excuse, and police don’t have carte blanche to kill anyone who doesn’t show perfect compliance. Time will tell into which category this case falls.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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4th armored div | September 21, 2016 at 12:11 pm

there is a question in my mind about having cops use rubber bullets in hand guns and regular ammo in long guns.

Can Rubber Bullets Kill You?

    Under the right circumstances a paper airplane can kill. The more proper question is: is a rubber bullet likely to kill. The answer is less likely then a “regular bullet”, but it is also less likely to stop you too.

Der Donald adds his helpful word salad to the mix…

“Breaking national news! Shocker! BLACK guy on drugs shot by police after not posing threat and not complying.” *Everyone loses their minds*
“Did we mention BLACK guy shot by cops!” *Everyone loses their minds more*

Excellent presentation of the situation as it is currently known. Thank you.

Yes, saw this yesterday. And it’s not getting any better. The police jumped the shark and screwed the pooch this time.

Was Terence Crutcher a wise man? Evidently not. But, despite the angle adopted for two days now by Bob Owens, that’s not the issue; Crutcher wasn’t the one being paid by the city of Tulsa to use force judiciously in the public’s interest.

Uniquely, in this case we see two different and simultaneous responses to the same situation; incapacitating (usually), non-lethal force vs. gratuitous lead poisoning. One sensible, almost certainly adequate and therefore correct; and the other disastrous. The contrast is what will put Officer Shelby in boiling water, and probably keep her there for a long time.

    “…One sensible, almost certainly adequate and therefore correct; and the other disastrous… ”

    One minor point FWIW: IF, as the Police claim, Mr. Crutcher was on PCP, there’s a good chance the Taser might not have been adequate.

    Maybe she didn’t have a Taser.
    Maybe she saw something he didn’t.
    Maybe …
    lots of different things.

Nice job! 🙂

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Andrew Branca:


That means a lot, coming from you.

One issue I have seen repeatedly is the question of why one officer used a gun while the other used a taser. Many departments train officers that when multiple officers are on a scene and one officer is preparing to use the taser, another officer maintains a covering position with deadly force (i.e. Gun) in case the taser doesn’t work or circumstances change and deadly force becomes necessary. If both officers perceive a deadly force threat, they would probably both react by using the weapons they were holding at the time. This would result in a taser discharge and gunshot simultaneously.

    The officer with the taser has an obligation to let the other officers know he’s deploying it. Same principle as tossing a hand grenade. If the other officers don’t know, they may well overreact and shoot the suspect once the probes make contact, particularly if the suspect doesn’t go down immediately. If they have any audio of the incident it would clear up that question.

From the look of it, I totally think that the officer was in the wrong on this one. The suspect did not appear aggressive, although he was non-compliant.

The only justified reason would be if he stuck his arm inside the SUV window. Even then, there were 4 cops on scene and they should have attempted physical confrontation prior to using deadly force.

If someone is having a mental episode and is confused/not in clear mind, that does not justify the use of lethal force.

If an arm didn’t go into that vehicle window, she should at the very least face manslaughter charges. I suspect when the taser was fired that she inadvertently pulled the trigger on her gun. (It’s not standard that only one shot is fired when using deadly force.)

Is that not the gunshot I see and hear at 50 seconds in the dashcam video? So was it an unintentional or accidental discharge?

smalltownoklahoman | September 21, 2016 at 6:17 pm

There’s simply too much that is either vague or unknown to make a good judgement right now on this case to say whether Officer Shelby’s use of deadly force was justified or not. I’m taking a wait and see approach before making my own call on that. I am at least very thankful that so far the people of Tulsa, while understandably upset, have reacted far more calmly than what happened in Charlotte. Not the least of which is because I live not too far from Tulsa and have family there! I just hope that the peace holds when Sharpton comes to Tulsa next week, he’s supposed to be here next Tuesday for a “National Day of Justice”.

JackRussellTerrierist | September 21, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Once again, lack of compliance by the offender brought about his death. I watched the video on slo-mo on a large screen. It sure looks to me as though Crutcher did indeed drop his left hand down through the window, which does look open.

It seems highly unlikely that Officer Shelby was not directing him to stop moving and that he would not comply. Maybe he thought because she’s a female and much smaller than he that he didn’t have to. Add a PCP high and the possibility that he suddenly remembered he had PCP in his car once the cops showed up, what happened makes total sense.

But we’ll see.

Was he so out of it that he didn’t realize his motor had died? Or had it? How do you come to a stop without deliberately braking? Coasting down to an ever-decreasing speed to fully stopped in the middle of the lane instead of maneuvering out of the lane while you still had momentum? Maybe turn your hazard flasher on? Anything? No, just “Here I am, there’s my car creating an extreme danger, somebody else figure it out for me”? But Shelby had no cause to think the dude was on something, making him unpredictable?

I don’t know about you, but I see people park their cars in the middle of the lane all the time and I don’t think a thing about it or that there’s anything wrong at all with all these hordes of people doing this.

I haven’t heard anything from the family or the lawyer, Ben Crump, about Terrence being a great provider at the age of forty for his four kids. I wonder why not.

The man who got shot was entirely responsible for his injuries. Not the LEOs. Why? Because when someone is pointing a firearm at you and ordering you not to do certain things it is logical to assume that that person will shoot you if you refuse to comply. That is exactly what happened.

Now, some people will attempt to excuse Crutcher’s actions as the result of being impaired by the use of a chemical substance, possibly even an illegal one. However, being intoxicated, through your own actions, does not relieve you of the responsibility of the results of your actions. It is also possible that Crutcher might have been faking intoxication. He could have had a vehicle full of explosives and was reaching for the detonator, much as the truck driver in Nice did. Or he might have been reaching for the loaded, high capacity, semi-automatic rifle on the front seat. The man who was shot in NC was holding a pistol which he did not drop, after being to told to do so numerous times.

In today’s society, LEOs are not going to wait to see if a person, who is actively non-compliant,and who may be in a position to harm them or others, is an actual threat or not. They will neutralize the potential threat represented by that person, quickly.

Now, if either of these men had complied with the orders of the people pointing guns at them, they would not have suffered any injury and certainly would not be dead. But, people have been indoctrinated to play the “What Did The Police Do Wrong?”game. This game is popular with the media and other liberal progressives who wish to blame “society” for the actions of the individual. And, it always predicated on the naive, mistaken, idea that people are harmless Teddie Bears and would never harm another person. However, if this were true, we would have no need for armed law enforcement officers, to begin with. If a LEO points a gun at you and tells you to do something, or not do something, complying with those orders will virtually always lead to a result which does not see you injured or dead.

After over a generation in police work, both as a patrolman, street crimes unit member, detective I am in a position to give an opinion.

Here it is. 1. The police are being trained go to the gun too quickly. The poor rookie gets out school thinking everybody is trying to kill him. And in certain places that very well may be true! There is a mindset in our profession that we must stand our ground or somehow it is a failure on our part to enforce the law/social order. I used to train my rookies in this principle. “We are peace officers first. Not law enforcement officers. And yes if the bad guy wants to, he gets first crack at us, because we have to react, not act. But the rule is- we can hope he misses and we don’t. Like baseball- we are the home team and always get last at bat.” We cannot assume people are threats. They have to earn that by their actions or words.

2. The police are being assaulted in far greater numbers than ever before. Any leftist that says only 40 are dead, less than prior years, or some such foolishness does not take into account the number of assaults and injuries occurring to police. Which makes the police jumpy as all get out.

3. Obama and his ilk are far more directly responsible for the uptick in shootings and assaults. They have told the angry black man that he is in fact being subjected to racism, and it is his DUTY to resist it. Now, to a street thug- that means fight the police on the street at that moment, not work to change communities over time.

And do not make the mistake that this is not directly related to the elections. It is, just as 2010 was Cambridge, 2012 was Zimmerman, 2014 was Ferguson. Obama wants to disrupt as much as he can for HRC this year. A nation full of protests and riots will suppress the vote, especially if the BLM target certain key polling locations- as the New black panthers did in 2009.

This will not end anytime soon. The black community has serious internal problems. In many places, they are by culture a group that resists what we, as a larger general community, consider civilized social behavior. It just is. Spend time in a urban environment like I did, and you’ll spend a good deal of your day going “WTF was that?”

In this shooting, the police were trained to force compliance. Their tools were presence, voice, hands, taser, gun. The large black man did not respond to the first four. Now at that point the decision to BACK DOWN should be considered, especially in this day and age. I would have told my crew to disengage, back away and seek cover. Let the situation play out a little. If he comes out with a gun- kill him. If he gets into the SUV what deadly crime as he committed? None. You wait to you get enough people together and approach. He pulls a gun, you kill him. He doesn’t- tase the sh*t out of him, pull him from the vehicle and get ready to be called “Rodney King II”.

There is no winning here, because the Obama/SJW/BLM/MSM people have decided that the black community cannot be asked any longer to be civil, and instead we are being asked to let elements of them run wild. In a sense, if you don’t enforce the law, is it still a crime?

If you allow him to get back in to his car then he becomes a risk to the greater community around them as he is now in a great big vehicle that can cause serious damage.

As others have said, this guy is the master of his own downfall.


    Maybe. If you position your vehicles in front and back, he wrecks his vehicle getting away. Damage to vehicles, nobody dead, plenty of video justifying your actions. Think long game.

    You throw stop sticks in front and back, then back off. Where is he going to go? I’ve dealt with this before. We had an old man with Alzheimer sitting in a van, in a field, in a parking lot of a Publix complex. FULL of people. The man had a pistol. He had it sitting on the seat. My partner used cover and another officer to ease up and yank open the door, tase the old man and pull him from the van, away from the gun ,which another officer snatched.

    Earlier, in the initial contact, the officer walked up, saw the man with the gun, and ran back to his car for cover. Called backup, assessed the situation, made a plan.

    Nobody got killed. At all times the van was covered by other officers. He gets out and starts waving the gun around, he’s shot. Or at least commands are given and everybody hopes he doesn’t think he’s back in Korea (another incident).

Yet most of you(especially Andrew Branca) felt Black Detective Joseph Walker didn’t have the right to defend himself against white racist criminal Joseph Harvey who threatened to kill Detective Walker.

Officer Betty Shelby just indicted for First degree manslaughter for killing Terence Crutcher.

Was the shooting of Crutcher so simple? According to the state DA it was.

And justice for all.

These are politically motivated charges.

Let’s hope she is rightfully acquitted at trial.