Body-Worn And Dashboard Camera Footage From Shooting Of 2 TPD Officers Released To Media

Sep 14, 2020

Video footage of the shooting of two Tulsa police officers, one of whom died of his injuries, was released by the Tulsa Police Department Monday morning following a judge's order that doing so was in the public interest. 

"What's going to take place in court should outweigh that public interest, in my opinion, but we're compelled to release it," said Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin at a Monday news conference. Franklin said the video had traumatized the department, and that even he had not watched it in full until it became clear that it would be ordered released.

"To me, it seems criminals have more rights than what you and I do, they have more rights than what our law enforcement officers do. You would never be allowed, publicly, to see the execution of a criminal, yet today you get to publicly see the execution of a police officer. What kind of society is that?" Franklin said to reporters.

Video from the body-worn cameras of Ofc. Aurash Zarkeshan and Sgt. Craig Johnson and from the dashboard camera of Zarkeshan's patrol vehicle show an incident that began as a routine traffic stop.

Just after 3:00 a.m. on Monday, June 29th, Zarkeshan's dashboard camera shows a turning driver cut him off. He initiates a traffic stop, and the car pulls over.

In footage from Zarkeshan's body-worn camera, he knocks on the window of the front passenger window and the driver opens it a few inches, saying "Yes sir?"

"Hey, roll that window all the way down, man," Zarkeshan says. "The reason why I stopped you is because you turned out right in front of me as I'm coming, and on top of that you have an expired tag."

The driver identifies himself as David Ware, but claims to not be able to find his driver license. He gives Zarkeshan his vehicle title and insurance paperwork. Zarkeshan takes down his name, date of birth, address, and phone number before returning to his patrol car.

After a few minutes, Zarkeshan exits his vehicle to greet Sgt. Craig Johnson, who has just arrived as backup.

"What's up?" Johnson says. 

"We're probably going to end up towing it because he's got no insurance. Tag's over 60 days expired," Zarkeshan tells Johnson, his supervisor.

After a brief discussion the officers approach Ware's vehicle, one on either side. 

Zarkeshan again greets Ware, this time at the driver's side window. He asks again for a driver license, and then requests Ware exit the car.

"Here's the deal," Zarkeshan says. "What I need you to do is step out of the vehicle."

"For what?" Ware asks. 

After about one minute of back-and-forth between Zarkeshan and Ware, with Ware continuing to refuse to exit the car, Zarkeshan opens the driver's door.

"You can't -- (expletive), you can't (expletive) open my door," Ware says, after which both Johnson and Ware continue asking him to exit the car. 

"I'm not stepping out of my car," Ware tells Johnson.

"You have two choices: You can step out of the car, or I can drag you out. Or we can Tase you," says Johnson, about two minutes after the officers arrived at the car and Ware has repeatedly said he will not exit the car. Johnson shows his Taser and performs an "ARC" display, which produces sound and visible electricity. 

About four and a half minutes into the interaction between the three men, Ware either receives or places a phone call to "Matt," giving his location and telling him to come help him because "these cops are violating my rights."

"Get off the phone," Johnson yells, again displaying the Taser.

"You can't shoot me, I'm not doing anything," Ware tells Johnson.

"I'm not going to shoot you, I'm going to Tase you. There is a difference," Johnson responds.

At about six and a half minutes into the encounter, after more direct warnings, Johnson attempts to use his Taser on Ware through the open passenger side window, but it appears not to have an effect. Zarkeshan begins to attempt to physically pull Ware from the car, but is unable. 

Johnson then comes to the driver's side, where he pepper sprays Ware. Ware stands, then sits back down in the car, saying "I don't want to go to jail." The officers tell him to get on the ground, and Johnson pepper sprays him for a second time.

Both officers attempt to pull Ware from the car, but are unable. At about seven and a half minutes, a vehicle pulls up, which TPD labels as that of Matthew Hall, Ware's alleged accomplice or getaway driver.

"Matt, help!" Ware yells. After more grappling, officers finally succeed in pulling Ware from the car.

Zarkeshan's dashboard camera captures what happens next. Ware produces a handgun, which he appears to have retrieved from under a seat during the struggle with officers.

"What the," Johnson says, as shots ring out. Ware fires multiple rounds at Johnson, turns to fire multiple rounds at Zarkeshan, and then turns back to a screaming, wounded Johnson. Ware shoots one last round, appearing to hit Johnson in the head. Johnson goes silent and motionless. Ware runs towards Hall's car.

Johnson was later pronounced dead from his injuries.

Kevin Adams, Ware's defense attorney, has been lobbying for the video's release for weeks because he says it shows discrepancies between statements made by TPD and what actually occurred. In particular, he has taken issue with Franklin saying on the day of the shooting that Ware walked "slowly" away from the crime scene. Adams has argued that claim -- which video does show to be incorrect -- negatively paints his client as a calculating killer, rather than someone who, as Adams also has argued, shot out of fear for his life. Adams also disputes the characterization of his client "standing over" Johnson when he shot him for the last time.

On Monday, Franklin argued that any discrepancies were immaterial.

"Some have tried to paint a picture of deception, that what we have told you is deceptive. In no way is it deceptive," Franklin said.

"Sometimes, everything that we get has gone through several people, and may not be totally accurate, but we are as accurate as we can be," Franklin said.

"Realistically, the discrepancies don't matter," Franklin argued. "It doesn't matter if that suspect stood one foot in front of our officer, over our officer and fired the fatal round, or if he was six feet or seven feet back. Doesn't matter. Does not matter at all.

"Doesn't matter if he walked away, or if he trotted, or skipped, or jogged, or did cartwheels away from the scene. Doesn't matter. Two officers were gunned down."

TPD distributed the footage to news organizations following Franklin's press conference. Public Radio Tulsa viewed it in full, and does not plan to publish or broadcast it at this time.

Ware and Hall are next due to appear in Tulsa County District Court on Oct. 5th.