City of Tulsa sued over multiple 2020 officer-involved shootings

TULSA, Okla. — Content Warning: The following story contains descriptions of bodycam footage that may be too graphic for some readers.

The City of Tulsa is currently being sued because of several officer-involved shootings. The lawsuit claims that 12 officers with the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) violated the constitutional rights of people during two separate officer-involved shootings.

In 2020, TPD officers shot and killed Jonathan Randell. A few months later, TPD officers also shot Jacob Rucker to death.

The District Attorney did not file charges against any of the officers involved in the shootings. TPD told FOX23 there are no documentable violations of their policies that would have led to disciplinary actions in any officer-involved shootings under the current chief.

The suit claims that both Randell and Jacob’s constitutional rights were violated. The suit also claimed that, “TPD has a pattern of using unnecessary force and excessive force on civilians, especially those who are not suspected of a serious crime.”

FOX23 has been following this story since the lawsuit was filed earlier this year, in August. During the investigation, FOX23 obtained bodycam footage of the shooting involving Randell and now has video of the shooting involving Jacob.

The footage was captured on Nov. 5, 2020. A report of the incident said that Officer Mortensen and Officer Snyder tried to arrest Jacob for possession of a stolen vehicle.

It also said on Nov. 4, Jacob led police on a car chase and got away.

Court records indicate that Jacob had been convicted of multiple felonies and the report said officers knew of Jacob’s violent history.

According to the report, on Nov. 5, officers saw Jacob getting into a red truck at the OYO Hotel and attempted to make contact with him.

In Mortensen’s bodycam video, Mortensen is seen opening the door to the red truck and pointing his gun at Jacob. Jacob is seen putting his hands up while the truck reverses and crashes into the unmarked Police SUV. The driver’s side door of the truck was folded completely open because of this.

The video then shows the red truck accelerating forward towards Mortensen.

In the bodycam video, the initial shots can’t be heard because the audio was not recording at that point. When the bodycam was turned on, the system captured the first 30 seconds without audio.

However, the initial shots can be seen. Mortensen’s video shows that he fired into the windshield shattering it. Snyder’s video shows gun smoke, indicating that Snyder fired into the open driver’s side door. According to the report, both officers said they fired multiple shots at this point.

The red truck is then seen accelerating into the side of the hotel. Seconds after the impact a loud bang is heard. Snyder is then heard shouting, “He’s got a gun!” and both officers retreat to cover.

The next five minutes of video, Jacob cannot be seen because both officers are behind cover. Officers can be heard multiple times ordering Jacob not to reach for a gun and telling him to stop moving.

The videos show Snyder and Mortensen fire multiple rounds at Jacob while telling each other that he is lying under the truck.

Officer DeGeorge and Officer Myers both arrived on scene after the initial shooting began, according to reports. They also told investigators that they shot their guns at Jacob multiple times.

According to video time stamps, about four minutes after the initial shot, officers can be heard on the video saying that they see no movement from Jacob. About five minutes after the initial shot was fired, police are seen approaching Jacob with a body shield.

Police are heard giving Jacob multiple commands to crawl toward them. There is no response heard.

An officer on scene is heard saying, “Is anyone calmed down enough that they can tell if he’s dead or not?”

Another officer is heard responding, “I see no rise or fall of the chest.”

Officers are seen retrieving Jacob, who is limp and covered in blood. They’re then seen rendering aid to Jacob.

A medical examiner’s reports said Jacob died from “multiple gunshot wounds.” 19 different gunshot wounds are listed on the report. The report also stated Jacob had meth in his system at the time of his death.

According to police reports, there is no indication that Jacob ever fired a shot. The reports also said Jacob drove the truck into an electrical box, which likely made the loud bang heard in the video. Reports show that officers told investigators they believed that the noise was Jacob firing a weapon.

Police reports said officers did not find a gun on scene, but they also said that a gun was found the next day behind the driver seat of the truck and that the truck was reported stolen.

The bodycam video is especially hard for Jacob’s dad, Doug, to watch.

“What happened to him was not right.,” he said. “It was wrong he died a horrible death.”

Doug said he knows his son had a rough past, but no one deserves what happened that day.

“You asked me what I thought about that first day, and it’s what I’ve thought about every day since then if I allow it to happen, is how long he laid there with them firing bullets into him and it wasn’t a quick thing, it was three or four minutes, and all I could think of was, he calling for me? Was he calling for his mother?” he said.

While Doug doesn’t think the shooting was justified, Tulsa Police and the District Attorney (DA), did.

Tulsa Police could not be interviewed about the lawsuit because they cannot comment on pending litigation. However, TPD Captain Richard Meulenberg sat down with FOX23 and explained how Tulsa police handle officer-involved shootings.

Capt. Meulenberg told FOX23 officers are trained to use deadly force, but only in self-defense.

“That’s why we’re going to use deadly force,” Meulenberg said. “Because of their potential danger or actual danger to other people.”

Meulenberg said this shooting, like all officer-involved shootings, was investigated by the department.

“Crime scene and homicide [investigators] will work the case,” he said. “They’ll talk to witnesses, get statements, gather evidence, and they’ll then send this to the District Attorney’s office.”

Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Eric Grayless said the District Attorney’s office conducted its own review.

“It was considered justified because Mr. Rucker’s actions put the officers and the public at large in fear of death or great bodily injury.” Grayless said.

Grayless said that all of the shots, initial and subsequent, were not criminal.

“In a hypothetical situation could initial shots be justified, and subsequent shots be a crime? Yes, but in this case all the officers’ actions were justified,” he said.

Grayless added that the shooting was justified as self defense and sent those findings back to TPD.

The Deadly Force Review board then looked at the case.

“The board is comprised of numerous members, high ranking and civilian, on the department that aren’t directly involved with the situation,” Meulenburg explained.

The Deadly Force Review Board agreed with the DA’s office.

“I don’t have any documentable or reportable policy violations for shootings that we’ve had,” Meulenburg said.

But attorney Dan Smolen said those policies are unconstitutional.

“It’s unnecessary force,” Smolen said. “It’s not required for the circumstance.”

Smolen represents the family of Randell. He filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city.

“You can make up your mind by watching the video,” he continued.

The federal lawsuit said, in part, “The City has created and tolerated long-standing unconstitutional, department-wide customs...with respect to uses of excessive force.”

“People in Tulsa should be very concerned by the police practices because it can directly impact them,” the lawsuit continued.

TPD told FOX23 the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) oversees the department’s policies. CALEA also sets law enforcement policy standards throughout the U.S. and other countries.

Doug said he’s a school teacher and all his life he’s taught kids to obey and trust police.

“I’ve taught kids all my life to do what policemen say, obey the law, be respectful, and this just shattered so many things I believed in,” he said.

He said he thinks the police are at fault for his son’s death and that’s why he’s a part of this lawsuit.

“There was no justification, and it was wrong, and it needs to never happen again,” he said.

Smolen said TPD hired a private firm to defend them.