US launches civil rights probe of Oklahoma police shooting

Terence Crutcher

Terence Crutcher

US authorities have launched a civil rights probe into the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after video footage of the incident sparked renewed outrage over law enforcement’s treatment of African-Americans.

The fatal shooting on Friday of Terence Crutcher was recorded by police car dashboard cameras and a police helicopter camera in the city of Tulsa in Oklahoma. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, in releasing the footage to the public on Monday, called it disturbing and “very difficult to watch”.

In the video, the 40-year-old Crutcher is seen with his hands up, appearing to comply with police officers and leaning against his car. He is then shot once by officer Betty Shelby, and falls to the ground. Another officer fires his stun gun.

It is not clear from the video who fired first, or what Crutcher’s exact movements were prior to the shooting.

Crutcher later died at a hospital. Officer Shelby was placed on paid leave pending an investigation, police said.

“We will achieve justice in this case,” the Tulsa police chief told a news conference. “We will do the right thing. We will not cover anything up.”

Federal probe

Police videos of the Tulsa incident that have been broadcast widely since their release on Monday have stoked the longstanding debate on police shootings in the US, with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton calling the contents “unbearable”.

The Department of Justice said Monday it would conduct a federal civil rights probe, a investigation parallel to the one local authorities in the state are carrying out.

The federal probe “will seek to determine whether a Federal Civil Rights violation occurred. The investigation will include a comprehensive review of the events surrounding the Friday night shooting that resulted in Mr. Crutcher’s death,” US Attorney Danny C. Williams Sr. of the Northern District of Oklahoma said in a statement.

A lawyer for Shelby has said she acted because she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a weapon – though the videos released by police show he had his hands in clear view before he was shot.

At a news conference in front of the Tulsa County courthouse, lawyers for Crutcher’s family released enlarged still images from the police videos they said showed the
vehicle’s window was closed and stained with blood after Crutcher was shot.

“He is not threatening to anyone,” lawyer Benjamin Crump said. “How can he be reaching into the car if the window is up and there is blood on the glass?”

Crutcher’s family called the shooting a criminal act and is seeking charges.

“The entire family is devastated,” said Crutcher’s sister Tiffany during a news conference, demanding that “charges are pressed against this officer, that was incompetent, that took my brother’s life”.

Protests

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Tulsa expressed outrage, and demanded that the officer be punished.

“This is not target practice. This is real life. Right now, we need for them to arrest Betty Shelby,” said Marq Lewis, a member of the group We The People Oklahoma, during a protest on Monday.

This latest police shooting incident comes after a tense summer in which widely disseminated videos of police shootings of African-Americans prompted protests around the country.

In Baton Rouge and Dallas, officers were shot and killed by gunmen who appeared to have been motivated by a desire for revenge against police shootings.

As of September 18, 697 people have been shot and killed by police in the US, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.