MUSKOGEE — Jet’Aime Grimes was walking to class at Bacone College on Friday morning when he learned that the video of a Muskogee police officer shooting his former schoolmate had been released by the Police Department.
“They put out the video about them shooting T-Baby (Terence Walker)?” Grimes asked. “I know a lot of people that are going to want to see this.”
Walker, 21, was fatally shot by Muskogee Police Officer Chansey McMillin outside a small church on the western side of town on Jan. 17. Walker, police allege, had sent death threats to his ex-girlfriend, who had taken shelter in the church during a wedding there.
On Friday, less than a week after the shooting, Muskogee police released a 10-minute, 16-second video of McMillin and Walker’s fateful interaction. It begins with McMillin, his body camera rolling, arriving at the church in his vehicle. It ends with McMillin leaving the scene in another officer’s squad car, Walker’s body having just been pulled out of a ditch.
What happens in between, when Walker spins out of the officer’s grasp, sprints north up a two-lane road and is shot three times as he bends over to pick up what appears to be a gun he dropped, had a chance to divide Muskogee down racial lines, community leaders said.
But it didn’t, something police and African-American leaders in the community credit to quick thinking by both sides.
Calming the storm
The Rev. Marlon Coleman, pastor of Muskogee’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, along with the Rev. Roscoe Beasley, president of the Muskogee Christian Ministers Alliance, hosted a meeting the Sunday following Walker’s shooting.
“We wanted everyone to stay calm,” Coleman said.
The shooting took place two days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and he and Beasley feared that Muskogee, which has a 16 percent African-American population, was kindling in need only of a match.
Both Coleman and Beasley said their sermons were cautious the day after Walker’s shooting, as both wanted to be careful not to say something that could inflame their congregations.
They wanted to be careful, they agreed, not to say something that could incite violence.
“Our concern all along was that some of the younger people may be so emotionally charged, because they’re so close to his age, they’re so in tune to what’s going on around the country, that their knee-jerk reaction may be to do something that doesn’t need to be done,” Coleman said.
“As ministers, we’re so concerned that we reach out to them in a way that they don’t do something foolish, they don’t do something hasty.”
The video brought transparency to the situation, said Coleman, who, along with Beasley, saw the video days ahead of its public release.
“I think in the days to come, people will calm down and get clarity,” Beasley said. “We just don’t want people to make the wrong judgments. Examine the video more than once and be clear what you’re seeing.”
Releasing the video
Grimes had met Walker the day before the shooting, when they both attended a party along with a number of football players and other students. Walker used to play linebacker at Bacone, which was founded as a college for American Indian students but which now has a predominantly African-American enrollment, and he and Grimes had a number of mutual friends.
On Friday, a number of Walker’s former teammates, who live in Bacone College’s Alexander Posey Dorm, crowded around a cellphone to watch the video of their friend being killed.
The video was released by police at 8 a.m. Friday, a quick turnaround considering that the shooting had happened six days earlier and the shooting investigation was not yet completed.
The students’ reactions were a mix of sadness, shock and anger, as well as some grudging respect for the difficult decisions law enforcement officers face.
“I’m not saying he was wrong for shooting,” Larry Frank said of McMillin. “You’re a cop, though, and your job is not to take someone off this earth. But when you see him reach down (in the video, Walker reaches down to pick up what police allege was a firearm, and for a brief instant, it is aimed at McMillin), I’m not sure what else the cop could do, really. Maybe shoot him in the leg?”
Emotions ran high as players watched and rewatched the video. One of Walker’s friends was forcibly taken from the area by a teammate after growing visibly, loudly angry.
Others said they weren’t sure whether the shooting was justified but that regardless, it would make them nervous in any future dealings with police.
Muskogee Police Sgt. Mike Mahan said the department wanted to release the video as soon as possible to get in front of the story and dispel any myths that had sprouted since Jan. 17.
Rumors had already swirled around town as facts surrounding the shooting became distorted, like a childhood game of telephone. One rumor was that Walker’s body had been handcuffed after he was shot. Another rumor was that an officer approached Walker’s body, shot him a few more times, then placed him in handcuffs.
The video, police hope, cleared up those erroneous claims.
“I’ve studied this and studied this and studied this (process),” Mahan said. “We wanted to release the video now before people’s minds were made up. In six months, if we released it then, … the facts in the video wouldn’t matter anymore, because people’s minds would already be set.”
The video presented clear images of the shooting and its aftermath. McMillin was patting down Walker, who police say was armed with a gun he had unsuccessfully tried to hand to a woman next to him. Walker spins out of McMillin’s grasp once the officer feels the handgun and sprints north.
As Walker is running he stops once to bend down, seemingly attempting to pick up something. He fumbles it and reaches down again, and for a brief instant it appears that his right hand is pointed at McMillin.
The officer responds by firing five shots at Walker, who is struck three times in the neck and torso.
“You have to look at it in its totality,” Mahan said. “There are civilians (from the wedding) behind the officer, and there’s a car right there, right next to Walker. That gun is a threat to all of them.”
After Walker is shot, he crumples to the ground and rolls off the road into a watery ditch on the east side of the street.
Another responding officer approaches Walker’s body and grabs an item that was tucked under it, tossing the item to the side. McMillin picks it up, then later asks another officer to “secure this weapon.”
“I was in a bad spot,” McMillin says to another officer, apparently talking about the civilians behind him.
Six minutes into the video, the nearby church’s pastor — who had tried to attend to Walker’s body immediately after the shooting — tells officers that McMillin “followed procedures. … He did everything right.”
A minute later, a shaken McMillin rests against another officer’s vehicle. An officer approaches and consoles him, walking with him north to a squad car.
“Why’d he (Walker) have to do that?” McMillin asks.
McMillin remains on paid administrative leave following the shooting, the second in which he has been involved during a six-month span.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, and Muskogee County Assistant District Attorney Tim King said the agency has not yet forwarded the case to his office for review.
“I believe (another officer-involved shooting from 2014) that the OSBI investigated took two or three weeks before we received the report,” King said. “So I suspect that it will be a while until we see this report.”
McMillin was cleared in a nonfatal shooting last July after shooting Angel Cerda, who police said had attacked a man with a knife and then began stabbing himself. McMillin shot Cerda after the knife-wielding man advanced toward him and two other officers, police said.
Larry Moore, Muskogee County’s district attorney at the time, cleared McMillin in that shooting, stating in a letter to Police Chief Rex Eskridge that McMillin should be commended for his nonlethal use of force.