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Police in Oklahoma released a video Friday that shows a white officer shooting and killing a fleeing black man, the latest deadly, racially-charged incident involving white US law enforcement officers and African-American men.
The graphic, unedited video shows Chansey McMillin, an officer with the Muskogee Police Department, fatally shooting 21-year-old Terence Walker on January 16. Muskogee is located about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa.
The video raises many questions. Police allege Walker dropped a pistol, stopped to pick it up, and then aimed the weapon at McMillin. Critics say McMillin shot Walker after he had picked up whatever he had dropped and was continuing to run away. A pistol was found at the scene, according to the video and police statements.
"It is our belief that the video clearly shows the suspect pointing the gun at the officer," Muskogee police Sgt. Michael Mahan told the Oklahoman newspaper.
Walker's mother, Cassandra Walker, told the Oklahoma City-based paper that the policeman was never in danger and should not have fired.
"If Terence was running away from you, he was no threat to you," she said. "I guess I feel it could be done another way."
The incident began at about 3:45pm on January 16 when Pastor Andre Jones at the Old Agency Baptist Church in the outskirts of northwestern Muskogee called 911 to report that an armed man had threatened to kill a woman attending a wedding at the church.
"He's here with a gun," Jones said on the 911 call, according to the Oklahoman. "I need a police officer because I got to stop this. I got a whole bunch of people here, and I don't need nobody hurt."
Mahan told the paper that witnesses heard Walker tell a woman at the wedding he "had a bullet with her name on it."
McMillin arrived at the church to investigate, and approached Walker. In the video, Walker cooperates at first as McMillin starts to search him. The officer tells him to "relax," then asks "what are you shaking for?" As McMillin begins to put Walker's hands behind his back, presumably to handcuff him, Walker throws his elbow at the officer as he spins around and flees from the church parking lot and out into a nearby street.
McMillin pursues Walker, and, seconds later, Walker drops an object on the street — police say it is a gun. He stops running and reaches down to pick it up. At this point, McMillin draws his gun and begins to fire. After the first two shots are fired, it appears that Walker turns his back and continues to run away. Only after the fifth shot does he stumble and fall into a drainage ditch next to the road.
Jones, the pastor who called 911, appears in the video and begins to approach Walker and says, "Please don't shoot no more," and, "let me check on him," as McMillin screams for him to get back.
A crowd begins to gather behind McMillin within seconds, with one person shouting, "Oh my God!"
Jones backs up and pleads, screaming, "Officer, PLEASE let me check on him!"
"Get back sir," McMillin responds. "He has a gun."
Someone in the crowd behind McMillin says, indignantly, "he don't have no gun."
Police backup arrives a few minutes later. Another officer approaches Walker and McMillin warns him that Walker has a gun. The video shows the officer retrieving a pistol from near Walker's belly. McMillin says the hammer was cocked — meaning it was ready to fire. The other officer then drags Walker's lifeless body out of the ditch and appears to check his pulse. Blood stains the grass and water in the ditch.
At no point during the video does an ambulance arrive or do any of the police officers attempt to perform CPR or any kind of emergency resuscitation as Walker lies in the street.
Walker was pronounced dead at the scene.
One backup officer carries a weapon that appears to be a military-style M-4 rifle.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, the Oklahoman reports. The paper said that the Muskogee County district attorney "had not issued a ruling stating whether the shooting was justified."
McMillin, a two-year veteran of the Muskogee police department, was put on administrative leave as the incident is being reviewed.
In an interview with Tulsa, Oklahoma's KJRH-TV, Jones said Walker had threatened a woman at the wedding and that he and others had tried to intervene. He said the woman feared Walker was going to hurt her. Jones says he accompanied McMillin as he approached Walker, and saw everything as he ran down the street when Walker fled and McMillin pursued him. When asked if he thought McMillin was justified in shooting Walker, he said it was a hard call.
"The officer knew he had a weapon. And when he turned towards the officer, I'm sure the officer felt threatened. Each man has to make his own judgment," the pastor said.
Jones said he thought the object that fell out of Walker's pocket was a cellphone, and "he just reached down to pick it up."
Jones said once police backup arrived, McMillin "was very upset, and he broke down, and was crying and beating the car and stuff."
The video shows McMillin hitting the back of a patrol car and saying, "Fuck."
In another interview, apparently after watching the video, Jones is quoted as having said it's "time to move on."
"This is a sad situation, but I'm hoping people will accept the video for what it is and stand on the truth and stop trying to make something of this that it is not," he told Oklahoma News on 6.
Oklahoma Attorney Jason Lowe told Oklahoma City's KFOR-TV that some people may question the officer's use of force.
"There's no justification for a police officer to shoot a fleeing suspect unless he feels his life is in danger," Lowe said. But he said the fact that Walker had a gun, and had stopped and turned toward the officer, means he could possibly be justified in shooting Walker.
"It all happened in just a few seconds. And it's life or death and the officer wants to go home to his family as well," Lowe said.
Mahan, the Muskogee police spokesman, said the department released the video in order to be more transparent.
"We believe this will help lessen speculation in the community as to what took place," Mahan told the Oklahoman. "We want to explain to people exactly what happened."
But Muskogee Church leaders, including Reverend Charles Moore, are worried that the video might raise tensions in the town's African-American community.
"But right now everyone's hurting because they see it, it was very graphic, it's placed out there but that's the reality of life and the society that we live in," Moore said. "I don't think that the video is going to answer every single question, I think it's going to make more questions arise, but how do we move forward from here? We just can't go on public opinion we just have to go on with what the facts are."
According to US Census Bureau statistics, Muskogee is 56 percent white, 15 percent black and 7 percent Latino. All of the police officers in the video appear to be white.
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_Editor's note: An earlier version of this story indicated that the __backup officer appeared to be carrying an automatic weapon. _