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Oklahoma cop's attorney says race a factor in charges

Oklahoma cop's attorney says race a factor in charges

April 24th, 2012 by SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press in News

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Prosecutors' decision to charge a white Oklahoma police captain with felony manslaughter after he shot a fleeing black teenager in the back was made in part to prevent the kind of racial discord that erupted after high-profile shootings in Florida and Tulsa, the officer's attorney claimed Monday.

Capt. Randy Harrison was charged last week with one count of first-degree manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Dane Scott Jr., who was shot March 14 after a car chase in the Oklahoma City suburb of Del City.

Harrison's lawyer, Irven Box, said recent cases helped create a "perfect storm against my client." He cited the arrests of two white men accused of fatally shooting three black people in Tulsa during a shooting spree that investigators described as racially motivated. Box also noted the protests sparked by the death of Trayvon Martin, the black teen who was unarmed when he was shot in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

And civil rights activist Jesse Jackson spoke in Oklahoma about the Tulsa shootings on the same day that Del City police filed their report about Scott's shooting with local prosecutors, he said.

"I think a lot of those factors could have influenced the charges being filed," Box said.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater did not respond to The Associated Press' request for comment, but he told The Oklahoman newspaper: "No one will question this filing decision when the facts are made public at trial."

A message left with a lawyer representing Scott's parents wasn't immediately returned.

Harrison was trying to arrest Scott after a car chase and managed to take a handgun from the teen during a struggle, according to a police affidavit. As Scott ran away, Harrison fired three times and missed, but a fourth shot struck Scott in the back.

Another police officer was running about 10 to 15 feet behind Scott and had just shot him with a Taser when Harrison fired the fatal shot, Del City Police Capt. Jody Suit wrote in an affidavit.

"At the time he was shot, Dane Scott was unarmed and was not posing a threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers or any other person," Suit wrote.

Box said the shooting was justified because the teen was reaching into his pocket and Harrison could have assumed the teen had another weapon, since "a person with one gun may have two." Scott had previous convictions in juvenile court on misdemeanor drug charges and a pending felony case of drug possession with intent to distribute, police officials said.

Harrison, a 23-year veteran of the Del City Police Department, is scheduled to be arraigned May 14. He remains on paid administrative leave.

The chase began when police tried to stop a vehicle for a traffic violation. The car, which had three occupants including Scott, fled and then collided with a tractor-trailer in Oklahoma City.

A scuffle between Scott and Harrison ensued, then Scott took off running, said the tractor-trailer driver, David Wakefield. He said Harrison "drew his weapon and was walking very calmly toward his target, like he was at a shooting range."

Wakefield also told the AP that the teen appeared to be "holding his pants up with his left hand and running."

James Greenstone, a veteran Texas police officer and an expert in police tactics, said Monday that the accounts of the shooting suggest there was little threat posed to Harrison when he fired at Scott.

"My personal opinion is that this is just a case of bad judgment," Greenstone said. "Why would you shoot someone who is running away from you?"

Associated Press writer Katie Fretland contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.