Tulsa Police Officer D.A. Roberts was on patrol when he heard a stolen car report at 12:03 a.m. on Oct. 7, 1966.
Roberts saw the white 1964 convertible with the same tag number as the stolen car at Oklahoma Street and Lewis Avenue at 12:05 a.m. He later testified that he radioed Patrol Sgt. John Jarrett that he was following the car.
Roberts activated his red light and siren and pursued the car as Jarrett set up a roadblock on North Lewis Avenue. To avoid the roadblock, the stolen car’s driver turned east, pulled into the parking lot of the Perry Food Market, 55 N. Lewis Ave., and struck a parked pickup truck.
Exiting from the disabled car, 17-year-old Francis Merle (Donnie) Hunter took off on foot. Roberts jumped out of his patrol car and shouted, “Police officer, stop,” he testified, but the youth kept running.
Roberts testified that he fired two warning shots into the air and shouted again for the suspect to halt, but he continued running, the Tulsa World reported on Oct. 12, 1966. (A Tulsa Tribune story said the warning shots were fired into the ground.) Roberts said he then fired two .38-caliber rounds at the suspect.
Hunter was shot in the back and died two minutes after the police chase started. An ambulance was called, but it was too late.
Both the officer and the suspect were white.
Youth's family, officer were neighbors
Donnie Hunter was a junior at Will Rogers High School. Born in Richmond, Indiana, he came to Tulsa as a baby with his family. The Hunters moved to California for five years and then returned to Tulsa in 1964.
His father, Donald W. Hunter, was a roofing contractor and his mother, Edna, cleaned new houses for a living. Other survivors were brothers Wayne and Mitch Hunter, along with his grandparents Mrs. Goldie McKee of Tulsa and Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Hunter, of Richmond, Indiana.
Coincidentally, the Hunter family lived just down the street from Roberts in the 1400 block of South Darlington Avenue.
Donnie Hunter had previous brushes with the law. Records showed he received a one-year suspended sentence on June 2, 1965, for breaking and entering and was fined $10 on June 22, 1966, for disturbing the peace.
Sgt. Jarrett suspended Officer Roberts from duty at the scene. Following procedure at the time, Roberts was charged with first-degree manslaughter and his arraignment was set the same day as the shooting. He waived his arraignment and his right to a jury trial.
4 days later, officer cleared
Meanwhile, Hunter’s father said he would go before a grand jury to discuss his son’s death.
“The man who shot my boy is a sorry, no-good cop. He could have shot him down without killing him,” he said.
Donald Hunter said he had contacted a lawyer after learning of the shooting and that he was “going all the way” in prosecuting the officer.
Four days after the shooting, District Judge Robert D. Simms acquitted Roberts, ruling that evidence showed that Hunter was committing a felony when he was shot. The judge ruled that the teenager’s death was “justifiable homicide” because Roberts was acting in his capacity as a police officer in pursuit of a felon, fleeing from arrest and justice.
Police Chief Jack Purdie testified as a character witness for Roberts and after the acquittal said the officer would be back on patrol duty the next day, Oct. 12. Roberts later became a police detective and retired in 1983.
Donnie Hunter’s mother and brother Wayne still live in Tulsa. His brother Mitch Hunter is a screenwriter in Hollywood whose credits include TV’s “The Middle” and “The Drew Carey Show.”
Burgers and milkshakes
Edna Hunter, now 90, said Donnie was just a normal teenager who liked hamburgers and milkshakes. When the Tulsa State Fair rolls around, she is reminded of Donnie because the last time she saw her son was at the 1966 fair on the evening of his death.
She said she learned later that her son and a friend would sometimes take cars without the owners' permission to go joyriding, returning them when they were done.
“We didn’t even know he could drive,” she said in a recent interview.
She said Donnie had been struck by a car when the family lived in California, and they were awaiting an insurance settlement in that case.
“When the money came in, we were going to buy him a car,” she said.
Read more Throwback Tulsa stories.