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TPD Officer Indicted In March Shooting

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Chris Polansky
/
KWGS News
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler at an Aug. 11th press conference at the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma office in downtown Tulsa.

A grand jury returned a misdemeanor indictment against a Tulsa Police Department officer in connection with his shooting of a man during an altercation with a suspect in March.

According to a statement from Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, the referral to present the case against Ofc. Aaron Russell to Oklahoma's Multicounty Grand Jury came after discussions with TPD Chief Wendell Franklin and the department's detective division.

Russell fired multiple rounds toward a moving vehicle driven by Michael Delaney in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 21st, hitting Delaney once in the arm, according to a statement from TPD public information officer Jeanne Pierce. Russell had been dispatched to a report of a "suspicious person" near the intersection of South Pittsburg Avenue and East 28th Street.

Reached by phone on Friday, Scott Wood, an attorney representing Russell, said his client noticed a firearm in the car and was attempting to remove Delaney from the vehicle when Delaney accelerated, at which point Russell opened fire because he believed a backing officer was in the path of the vehicle and in danger.

"My client believes his backer is still in harm's way, and shoots five rounds -- which is really not that many in a gun that holds 17 rounds -- and stops firing as soon as he realizes that the car is getting too far down the road and that, since he's now directed his attention onto the roadway, his backing officer is not laid out, has not been run over," Wood said.

"If you look on the body-worn camera, you can see when the backer moves out of the way is before the guy takes off in the car," Wood said. "My officer just didn't realize that because all of his attention was focused on the suspect in the car."

According to the TPD statement, "Review of the in-car video and body-worn camera evidence did not support the initial belief that officers were assaulted with a vehicle, and the firearm was determined to be an airgun, and therefore detectives immediately amended charges on Delaney," who was originally arrested for felon in possession of a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, and four open warrants. 

"Delaney ultimately pled guilty to obstructing Ofc. Russell," the statement reads. Delaney survived the gunshot injuries.

The grand jury returned one misdemeanor indictment for reckless handling of a firearm against Russell. A felony charge of assault and battery with a deadly weapon was declined.

Wood said he believes the evidence makes clear his client used reasonable force, and that widespread national attention on police use of force could be responsible for the case being presented to the grand jury.

"The X-factor nowadays is, you know, the dynamics of the public, and what they may think about a particular use of force," Wood said. "I think people are skittish about that just because of everything that's going on across the country."

"Steve Kunzweiler is, of course, not afraid to charge somebody. We've seen that in the past," said Wood, who was a member of the defense team for Betty Shelby, the TPD officer charged with manslaughter by Kunzweiler's office in 2016 for the shooting death of Terence Crutcher.  

"And we've seen many times where he's written clearance letters for officers who were, he felt, justified in their use of force. I don't know if this was just a tossed ball, like, 'we're going to have to have a tipoff on this because we just don't know one way or the other, we just can't tell.' I don't know," Wood said.

In his statement, Kunzweiler said that Russell had been cooperating with the investigation, and is presumed innocent "until and unless a judge or jury determines otherwise."

Wood said Friday he was unsure whether or not the case would proceed to trial.

Russell is on administrative leave and restricted duty pending the completion of the criminal trial, according to TPD.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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