Bennie Edwards
Bennie Edwards died Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, after being shot five times during an encounter with Oklahoma City police. (Screenshot)

An Oklahoma City police officer who shot Bennie Edwards in the back has been charged with first-degree manslaughter by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

Bennie Edwards
Bennie Edwards died Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, after being shot by Oklahoma City police officers. (Twitter)

Sgt. Clifford Holman shot Edwards, a Black man who experienced homelessness and psychosis, on Dec. 11 outside a north Oklahoma City shopping center. Police had been called to respond to an agitated man who was disturbing customers near 2111 W. Hefner Road.

Holman was not the first officer on the scene but had been requested as back up because he is a “certified Taser operator,” according to an affidavit included with today’s filing and embedded below.

Prater told NonDoc that body camera footage — unreleased so far by OKCPD — showed Edwards initially moving toward Master Sgt. Keith Duroy, who was not charged for the incident, with a knife before fleeing in the other direction.

A private citizen captured 10 seconds of video showing Edwards’ death, and six total gunshots can be heard.

As Edwards ran away from officers, Holman fired three times and struck Edwards, according to the Feb. 24 affidavit from OKCPD detective Bryn Carter:

Sgt. Clifford Holman arrived on scene and deployed his Taser at Mr. Edwards on two separate occasions with no effect. Mr. Edwards was also sprayed with OC gas with little to no effect.

After the second Taser deployment, Mr. Edwards turned toward Sgt. Duroy, charging directly at him with the knife still in his right hand, before turning east running away from officers.

Sgt. Clifford Holman dropped his Taser unit, drew his service weapon and fired three shots unnecessarily at Mr. Edwards as he was running away striking him in his upper middle back causing his death.

Based off the above information, your affiant believes Clifford Holman is in violation of Title 12, Section 711.3 (manslaughter in the first degree) of the Oklahoma state statutes.

Prater, who has announced he will not seek re-election in 2022, said it could be around 18 months before Holman goes to trial.

“There are always many things to consider when determining whether or not an officer’s use of deadly force is lawfully justified or not,” Prater said. “Any loss of human life is tragic, and I take these decisions very seriously.”

Prater’s filing presents a first-degree manslaughter charge “or in the alternative” a second-degree manslaughter charge. The first-degree charge argues that Holman “willfully, unlawfully and unnecessarily killed Bennie Edwards by shooting him with a firearm, after an attempt by the deceased to commit a crime had failed.”

The second-degree charge argues that Holman killed Edwards “in a culpable and negligent manner, by shooting Bennie Edwards, with a handgun, inflicting mortal wounds.”

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Autopsy details gunshot wounds

According to an autopsy report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (embedded below), four bullets hit the 60-year-old man: one grazing the right arm and striking the right side of the chest, one grazing the right thigh, and two shots hitting the abdomen and back. Three electroshock gun probes were also attached to Edwards’ clothing.

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Leonardo Roquero, contains a stark sentence about Edwards’ body that may speak to his battle with mental illness: “The right and left ears were each plugged with multiple wrappers of candies.”

Within a week of the shooting, OKCPD revealed that neither officer had been certified in crisis intervention training, which is intended to help law enforcement de-escalate encounters with those displaying mental health issues.

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OKC FOP releases statement

Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police President John George released a statement Thursday afternoon about the manslaughter charge.

“The OKC FOP stands by Sgt. Holman, who followed his training when an armed suspect charged another officer. A loss of life is always a tragedy, but officers must be able to protect one another when de-escalation tactics are ineffective,” George said. “In this situation, when faced with a disturbed individual armed with a deadly weapon, our officers used multiple methods of de-escalation and less-lethal options to try to avoid the use of deadly force. When those efforts were ineffective, the officers were put in peril when they were charged by the armed person. We maintain that Sgt. Holman upheld his duty and followed the law. We know these are trying times for Sgt. Holman and his family, and we’re here for them. The FOP thanks every officer who puts on a badge to protect and serve, despite this challenging environment.”

Past police prosecutions

Prater has prosecuted four police officers from several different jurisdictions in the past, with at least one making national news.

A jury convicted former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Hotlzclaw of 18 counts of rape, sexual battery and forcible oral sodomy in December 2015. Holtzclaw was accused of forcing women into sex acts while on duty as a police officer. He’s currently serving a 263-year sentence.

In 2014, a judge sentenced Del City police officer Randy Harrison to four years in prison for first-degree manslaughter in the wake of the 2012 shooting of 18-year-old Dane Scott Jr. In that case, Harrison was found to have shot Scott in the back during a pursuit.

Prater charged Oklahoma City police Sgt. Keith Sweeney with second-degree murder in 2017 following the shooting death of 29-year-old Dustin Pigeon. Sweeney shot Pigeon five times after the man had told a 9-1-1 operator he was suicidal. Pigeon was unarmed at the time and had threatened to set himself on fire. Other officers were on the scene conversing with Pigeon prior to Sweeney’s arrival. A jury ultimately convicted Sweeney of the charge in 2019, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Village police officer Chance Avery was charged with second-degree manslaughter in September. He shot Christopher Poor three times during an encounter in July after Poor’s wife had called police. Poor, who was wielding a baseball bat, was shot three times. The case is pending.

(Update: This article was updated at 1:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, to include comment from John George. It was updated again at 1:11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, to correct reference to the number of bullets that struck Edwards.)