There are many disturbing moments in the video recordings of Terence Crutcher’s death at the hands of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby. But officers’ conduct immediately after Shelby shot the 40-year-old stands out as particularly heartbreaking.
Three officers standing shoulder to shoulder retreat from the unarmed and dying man, weapons still leveled in his direction. Thirty seconds after Crutcher falls, the trio has moved off-screen. Officers can be seen walking back and forth to their cars over the following moments.
But for more than two minutes, no one attends to Crutcher’s wound. About 100 seconds after Shelby shot the unarmed man, another officer who arrived after the shooting puts on gloves and appears to check Crutcher’s pockets.
Nearly two-and-a-half minutes after Shelby’s “shots fired” radio call, another officer is heard saying “Hey we need a lane open so EMT can get in.” At about that same time, the gloved officer appears to begin unwrapping and applying bandages or gauze to Crutcher’s body.
At 7:48 local time — almost four minutes after Crutcher was shot — an ambulance arrives.
The lack of immediate medical attention from officers on the scene attracted particular attention from local activist Marq Lewis, who noted that officer Shelby is certified in basic emergency medical services.
“Betty Shelby is a trained EMS Basic,” said Lewis, a lead organizer with police accountability group We The People Oklahoma. “She’s trained. She did not render aid at all. She also has a trauma bag issued in her trunk. They let him lay there two-plus minutes. She did not even render aid at all.”
Such scenes are likely familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention as videos of violent, deadly police encounters with black people became more prevalent and available over the past few years. Officers commonly decline to render first aid, even after removing a wounded citizen’s weapon — or discovering she never had one at all.
Police shootings place people’s moral duty to provide medical aid at odds with officers’ training, which typically places a heavy emphasis on the risks that citizens might pose. Both the law and police policy surrounding that tension are murky.
Prof. David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis wrote in a 2012 article for The Police Chief that officers “have an affirmative obligation to see that citizens they shoot receive timely medical attention,” but advised putting that medical care second to their own safety. Law professor and ex police commissioner Peter Keane agrees. A 2014 appeals court decision held that cops were not responsible for the death of an Ohio man who might have lived if they stemmed his bleeding.
Police officers’ apparent disregard for the health of living people or bodies of dead ones in these videos has been a theme going back to the summer of 2014, when the police killings of Eric Garner in New York and Mike Brown in Missouri helped catapult police violence into the major media spotlight nationwide.
Officers left Brown’s body lying in the street for nearly four hours. Garner famously told multiple cops he couldn’t breathe, yet they did not react as urgently as policy dictates they are supposed to and he did not receive medical attention for several minutes.
There are many other examples, not all of them captured on video.
2013, Florida — Jermain McBean
McBean had just bought a BB gun and was walking home with it slung over his shoulders, scarecrow-style. He had earbud headphones in and did not hear officers commands. When he turned around to face them, Deputy Peter Peraza shot and killed him.
A nurse who witnessed the shooting offered aid, but told local reporters that the officers told her not to tend to McBean as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk. She later snapped a picture that helped prove the officers had lied about some of the circumstances.
Peraza was charged with manslaughter in the case. But the charges were thrown out this July, three years after McBean’s death, because Circuit Judge Michael Usan decided that the slain man had been having a “psychotic episode.”
2014, Ohio — Tanisha Anderson
Family members had called 911 hoping to get medical assistance for Tanisha Anderson, who was having an episode of the mental illness that was familiar to those who knew her. But within minutes, her family says, officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers had arrested her violently. One slammed her head against the pavement, knocking Anderson unconscious.
Even then, with Anderson unresponsive, the officers did not call for medical assistance.
Less than an hour later, she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. The family’s wrongful death suit against the city of Cleveland is ongoing.
2014, Ohio — Tamir Rice
The neglect with which Cleveland police treated 12-year-old Tamir Rice after fatally shooting him may be the most notorious example of officers declining to furnish medical assistance to a dying person.
After officer Timothy Loehmann shot Rice in the stomach a split-second after arriving at the rec center courtyard where he was playing with a toy gun, multiple city cops sat around watching the child bleed. They tackled, handcuffed, and detained Rice’s sister, but did not attempt to aid him.
Rice got no first aid until a nearby FBI agent who had heard the shooting on his radio arrived four minutes later. Rice was speaking when the agent reached him, then lost consciousness. He died just before 1:00 a.m. the next day in a nearby hospital.
2014, New York — Akai Gurley
Officer Peter Liang and his partner were patrolling an unlit public housing stairwell — something a superior officer in their precinct had explicitly told his teams never to do — when a door opened and Liang panicked. He fired a shot that ricocheted and hit Akai Gurley. Gurley and his companion staggered down two flights of steps before he collapsed, and she went to knock on a neighbor’s door for help.
Liang, meanwhile, didn’t use his radio to even notify fellow officers he’d shot someone for more than six minutes. Neither did he attempt to treat Gurley’s wounds himself. Instead, he texted frantically with his police union rep about what he’d just done.
Gurley bled to death while Liang looked to cover his own ass. He was convicted earlier this year of manslaughter and misconduct, but will not see a prison cell. He was sentenced to five years of probation.
2015, South Carolina — Walter Scott
Officer Michael Slager is the rare cop to face a murder charge for killing a civilian. After the story Slager and his colleagues initially told about his killing of Walter Scott fell apart thanks to cell phone video that exposed the cover-up, authorities charged him with first-degree murder.
But as cold-blooded as Slager behaved in killing Scott — he makes no effort to pursue the slowly fleeing 50-year-old, instead drawing his pistol and shooting him several times in the back — the moments just afterward are perhaps more chilling.
Slager calmly walks to Scott’s body, cuffs his hands behind his back, and then strolls back toward where he’d been standing when he killed the man. A little over a minute later, a second officer arrives and bothers to check Scott’s pulse. Slager made no attempt at any point to check on the unarmed old man’s health.
2015, Oklahoma — Eric Harris
Eric Harris was unarmed and fleeing from Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputies on foot. The deputies caught him, tackled him, and pinned him to the ground. A reserve deputy —73-year-old Robert Bates, a longtime friend and political booster of Sheriff Stanley Glanz — announces he is going to use his Taser on Harris. Then he pulls his revolver and shoots him once.
Video of the killing captures Harris, shot while physically subdued by multiple officers, saying to one of them, “I’m losing my breath.” The officer responds, “fuck your breath.”
2016, Louisiana — Alton Sterling
Alton Sterling sold CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge while living in a transitional housing facility and trying to get himself off the street. The convenience store owner, Abdullah Muflahi, had become friendly with Sterling and believes the man had purchased a gun to defend himself from being robbed of the money he was trying to save.
Officers were called out to the store late one night this July. Moments later, Sterling lay dying in the parking lot. Muflahi was standing a few feet away and says Sterling never made a move toward his pocket while the officer who killed him had him pinned on his back.
It took almost 10 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. While waiting for EMS, Muflahi says, one of the officers told the other to “just leave him.”
2016, Minnesota — Philando Castile
No video exists of the moment St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop near the site of the Minnesota State Fair in July. But a long video that begins just afterward, as Castile is bleeding and Yanez is brandishing his gun and screaming at Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds while she calmly narrates what just happened, stands among the most devastating recordings of this new era of smartphone-based police accountability.
Reynolds is steadfast in the video, describing what Yanez did while also responding to his frantic commands and attempting to calm her and Castile’s daughter, who is sitting in the back of the car.
Eventually officers from an adjacent small-town police force tried to render first aid to Castile, according to Roseville PD Chief Rick Mathwig. Those officers arrived well after the shooting, and began CPR roughly three minutes after they got to Castile and Reynolds’ car.