Judge Drops Murder Charge. Still Sends Cop to Trial for Manslaughter—for Stopping Active Shooter

By Steve Pomper

Here’s another update in the case of a Blackwell, Oklahoma Police Lieutenant John Mitchell who risked his life to stop a woman, armed with a pickup truck and a handgun, from driving through town while shooting her gun out the window at people and objects. Lt. Mitchell’s mission was to stop the woman before she could kill anyone. He did that. No one except the shooter was significantly injured.

You’d think Lt. Mitchell would have been universally lauded as the hero he was. Not so fast. District Attorney Jason Hicks apparently saw things differently. Instead, he’s putting a good husband, father, cop, and community member through hell—for doing his job.

Last spring, an outside investigative agency cleared Lt. Mitchell of any wrongdoing. Next came an inexplicable seven-month incubation of hate. Then, incredibly, DA Hicks, apparently presenting information heavily biased against Lt. Mitchell, convinced a grand jury to indict Lt. Mitchell for murder.

Now, approaching another spring, on February 18th and 19th, Lt. Mitchell attended a preliminary hearing. Judge Nikki G. Leach could have sent the case to trial for second-degree murder, or manslaughter, or dismiss the charges. Defying reason—and the law—the judge decided there is probable cause to try the officer for manslaughter.

The judge’s decision also baffled Lt. Mitchell’s attorney, Gary James. He told KFOR, “The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear [that] can shoot a violent fleeing felon,” James continued. “If this lady is not a violent fleeing felon, then I don’t know what is.”

The judge ruled there is probable cause to believe Lt. Mitchell committed a crime when he shot an active shooter shooting at him and other people. The crime of manslaughter. Again, how can the DA charge him with manslaughter but not other officers who also shot at her? As you’ll see below, the number of shots fired is not a predicate for manslaughter.

If the DA and perhaps the judge, too, are stuck on the 60 rounds fired, then shouldn’t the “victim” be the community at large? Shouldn’t the DA have charged a defendant with something like “Reckless Conduct,” which it wasn’t, but which specifically pertains to “irresponsible” actions with firearms.

The 60 rounds being unreasonable is what the DA has been implying about Lt. Mitchell’s actions, but Reckless Conduct is not the crime he’s charging. That’s because it doesn’t apply to necessary police actions during a lethal force situation. And no lucid person could say lethal force was unnecessary in this case. Cops tend to shoot at people who are shooting at them… we’re funny that way.

Otherwise, to be convicted of manslaughter, shouldn’t any officer who shot rounds at the suspect during the shootout also be called into question? Whether it was the first or sixtieth round that killed the shooter (who was reportedly struck by 10 rounds), what’s the difference for charging manslaughter? The number of shots fired should be irrelevant (Reminder: it was the precise number of shots needed to end the incident with no innocent people killed).

So, if the issue is shooting and killing the shooter, again, why was another officer who also fired shots not charged? The only difference between the two officers is the number of rounds each fired and the type of firearm they used which, for the charge of manslaughter, shouldn’t matter.

It’s helpful to see how insane this case is when you examine the applicable Oklahoma homicide statutes Lt. Mitchell is being charged with:

Oklahoma Statute §21.711

Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree in the following cases:

  1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.

Doesn’t apply

  1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.

This seems to be what they’re relying on based on the original grand jury indictment reporting:KFOR reported Hicks said, ‘Mitchell shot and killed Michael Godsey ‘without justifiable or excusable cause’ while ‘discharging approximately 60 rounds.’” How is an officer shooting at someone who is shooting at him and others not excusable or justifiable?

  1. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.

Are they trying to stretch this one to fit?

If Lt. Mitchell shooting a suspect who is shooting at him and other police officers not excusable or justifiable, then why wouldn’t any other officer who also shot rounds at the suspect be equally not excusable or justifiable? Again, it goes back to Hicks’ obsession with the number of rounds fired. So, was Lt. Mitchell supposed to set an arbitrary limit for himself that once reached he’d just stop—let the shooter go, risking lives?

It’s because no officer involved should have been charged with any crime because there was no crime. For some reason, Judge Leach seems to have given DA Hicks’ weak case a boost. Why? Who knows? This entire debacle raises all kinds of questions of a miscarriage of justice. Okay, DA Hicks, and apparently Judge Leach, you don’t like what Lt. Mitchell did, or more accurately, the way he did it; we get it.

But just because you don’t like what happened and the way it happened, doesn’t mean Lt. Mitchell didn’t do the right thing. And just because the people give you extraordinary political powers to affect people’s lives, doesn’t mean you use that authority to try to make reality conform to your fantasies of how you believe the real world should work.

Lt. Mitchell’s arraignment is scheduled for March 18th, 2020 in Kay County Court. James said he plans to file a motion to “have the case thrown out” (like the garbage it is) following the arraignment. How this judge arrived at his decision to allow this case to proceed is anyone’s guess.

Cops are forced to live in that reality people like Hicks ignore, which often requires them to make split-second decisions… sometimes, many within the course of a few moments. This was Lt. John Mitchell’s reality that early May morning in 2019. And this is the thanks he gets from a reckless DA and a feckless judge.

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