TULSA, OK – The Tulsa police union lodged an ethics complaint Wednesday against District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, alleging he “unfairly” charged Officer Betty Shelby without probable cause because he “rushed” to a decision before all evidence had been submitted to his office.
The ethics complaint, filed with the Oklahoma Bar Association, alleges Kunzweiler didn’t have probable cause to charge Shelby “merely based on watching a video” of her fatal encounter with Terence Crutcher. The grievance accuses Kunzweiler of failing to adhere to his own procedures.
“We believe D.A. Kunzweiler seems to have unfairly and unethically rushed to charge Officer Shelby before all of the critical evidence had been provided and reviewed, contrary to the way he normally handles all other cases, including police related shootings,” the complaint states.
The move comes several months after a district court judge determined during Shelby’s preliminary hearing that prosecutors had established probable cause and bound her over for trial on a first-degree manslaughter charge.
Her jury trial is slated to begin Monday.
Kunzweiler said he hadn’t yet seen the police union’s complaint but responded that he had a significant amount of evidence before filing the charge, not just the video footage. He said he found the grievance’s timing to be “pretty interesting” and anticipates obtaining legal counsel to defend himself.
“We’re a country of laws, and we try our cases in the courtroom,” Kunzweiler said. “We’re not going to litigate this case in the media. We’re going to let a judge and a jury make a proper determination based upon the rule of evidence.”
Jerad Lindsey, board of directors chairman for the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police, explained in a news conference the FOP’s goal is to avoid allowing a precedent of filing charges before police investigators finish their reports — no matter whether it is against an officer or citizen.
Kunzweiler filed the manslaughter charge based on an affidavit written by one of his investigators, which came prior to Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker completing his case report. Shelby’s defense team and the ethics complaint both allege Walker’s report found Crutcher’s shooting to be justified under the circumstances.
A Tulsa World reporter asked Lindsey why the FOP waited to file the complaint until less than a week before Shelby’s trial, especially given that the preliminary hearing took place in November and a district court judge admonished both parties in April against speaking publicly to avoid tainting the jury pool after Shelby gave a national television interview.
The FOP isn’t trying to influence the trial, Lindsey said, but waited because the union was expecting “something big to come up” that would explain Kunzweiler’s actions.
“(The admonishment is) when we started kind of gearing up and getting our head wrapped around what our options were, because up to this point we had never done anything like this. We’ve never dealt with an issue like this,” Lindsey said. “So we kept waiting for something to happen, and it was shortly after that admonishment that we saw that there was not going to be a big piece of evidence that made this make sense to us.”
Lindsey said the union believes Kunzweiler is a “good DA,” a “good man” and “makes good decisions” except for in Shelby’s case. Lindsey said potential citizen unrest and political pressure “creeped into the process” and that those who watched Kunzweiler announce the charge could see the pressure he was under.
“And I’m not going to second-guess the DA and say that he shouldn’t have filed charges,” Lindsey said. “What we’re saying is he shouldn’t have filed charges until all of the evidence was in.”
Defense attorney Shannon McMurray said she and her co-counsel didn’t know in advance that the FOP was going to lodge a complaint. Lindsey said he didn’t speak with Shelby or her attorneys about the complaint.
A central issue at dispute in the case is whether Crutcher attempted to reach with his left hand through a half-open window, prompting Shelby to shoot because she feared he was trying to grab a gun. Crutcher was found to be unarmed, and no weapons were in the SUV.
A District Attorney’s Office investigator wrote in a probable cause arrest affidavit that he feels Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation” and that she became “emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.”
Scott Wood, an attorney on Shelby’s defense team, previously told the Tulsa World that Crutcher escalated the encounter because he repeatedly failed to comply with her demands and kept reaching toward his pockets as if he had a handgun.
Wood has said Shelby pulled her firearm instead of her Taser because she felt Crutcher might be armed and was exhibiting signs of being under the influence of PCP.
From The Tulsa World