By Steve Pomper
It’s hard to believe the NPA has been reporting on the Lt. John Mitchell saga for over a year about an incident that occurred in May 2019 in Blackwell, Oklahoma. Mitchell is a lieutenant with the Blackwell Police Department who was indicted by DA Jason Hicks for stopping an active shooter who was terrorizing the city he has sworn to protect. The suspect died of wounds suffered during a shootout.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Lt. Mitchell and asked him how he’s holding up after so many grueling months of waiting for… well, just waiting. Back in September, he thought he was only a couple of weeks from a decision. More months later he is still waiting for a ruling on a manslaughter charge that never should have been brought. Thanksgiving went by with this cloud hanging over him and his family. Is he, his wife, and his kids about to celebrate another Christmas with a similar black cloud hovering?
Lt. Mitchell is an immensely impressive and positive man who is handling this trial (literally) with as much grace as I’ve ever seen a police officer handle similar adversity. Even after being relentlessly pursued by a district attorney who seems to have it out for him, I didn’t hear Lt. Mitchell utter one negative word against the man. Instead, Lt. Mitchell expressed more confusion than anger and even recognized the DA may be feeling some pressure to prosecute this case from some unknown source. I am not so generous, but I’ll remain civil in the spirit of Christmas.
A brief recap of the incident: The suspect, Michael Godsey, got in her car and drove around town shooting randomly. She’d already shot at police and even at her mother before Lt. Mitchell and another officer located her, and she, still driving, engaged them in a gunfight. Godsey refused to surrender during the entire encounter, and her rampage was only stopped by heroic police actions, including those of Lt. Mitchell. As his attorney, Gary James, said, “If this lady is not a violent fleeing felon then I don’t know what is.” Great point!
Because of Lt. Mitchell there are people whom Godsey may have shot, crashed into, or run over who were not. No one will ever know the tragedies avoided because of Lt. Mitchell’s quick and decisive actions. No person knows what he or she would have done under similar circumstances. Lt. Mitchell likely didn’t know what he would have done until after he did it. It was that kind of unfolding, unpredictable incident, and the cop did what his community expected of him. He saw a threat to the people of his city, and he ended that threat.
Then, after initially being cleared by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), an apparently overzealous district attorney had the temerity to charge Lt. Mitchell with murder (which was eventually tossed out, but for some reason, Judge Nikki G. Leach allowed a manslaughter charge to remain). Here’s the puzzle: how can a police officer be charged with committing a “crime” by shooting an armed suspect who was actively shooting at him and another officer? How does that happen? Following this preliminary hearing, the trial reverted to Judge Lee Turner.
The truth is, Lt. Mitchell only used necessary force until the suspect stopped presenting her multiple threats. Is there another math I’m not considering? The lieutenant fired until the suspect stopped firing shots and stopped her vehicle. Remember, a gun was not the suspect’s only weapon. As long as she was driving that pickup truck, that vehicle was also as deadly a weapon as her firearm.
As I understand it, Judge Lee Turner is a good and respected man. In fact, in today’s anti-cop swamp of a criminal justice system, I don’t know how any good judge can function properly. It’s prevalent these days for a judge to be aware of how he or she should rule and try not to allow the all too real pressures of anti-police influences to affect those rulings.
After all, judges are human beings subject to all the influences that affect all people. But we expect more of judges because they hold, like police officers, a special place in society. Americans rely on judges to render justice in their rulings. That’s why it’s more important than ever that judges toss political pressures aside. Judges must make their rulings based in law and on the specific circumstances an officer faced during the rolling (again, literally), split-second decisions made in a high-stress, life and death incident.
It’s possible Judge Turner, like any judge, may be worried about having his decision appealed if it doesn’t go the DA’s way. I think one reality here, with such a zealous district attorney, is he is very likely to appeal no matter what, if the ruling does not go his way. After all, if the DA has been willing to put Lt. Mitchell—and his family—through this hell, for 19 months, what would stop him from leaving more persecution—sorry, prosecution, under the family’s Christmas tree this year?
I’m calling on Judge Turner to do the right thing and to end this torment of an excellent family man, police lieutenant, and community member and make the right decision. The prosecutorial malfeasance (sorry, dropped the Christmas civility for a second) brought against this dedicated cop, who’s been serving the great state of Oklahoma for the past two decades, has got to stop.
So, here’s wishing, to the Mitchell family, to Judge Turner, to the Blackwell P.D., the residents of Blackwell, and, again, in the spirit of Christmas, even to DA Hicks and his family, a very Merry Christmas.
If you’d like to fill yourself in on Lt. John Mitchell’s running this marathon through the criminal justice system, you can click on these links for the—far too many—follow-ups.
Correction: In this article, Judge Nikki Leach was originally referenced as the trial judge. While Judge Leach ruled on a preliminary hearing, the case then reverted to the trial judge, Lee Turner. The author apologizes for any confusion.