A white Oklahoma police officer who shot his daughter’s mixed-race black boyfriend was convicted of manslaughter after three mistrials.
After the 2014 shooting of 19-year-old Jeremy Lake, Tulsa Police officer Shannon Kepler was charged with murder. Lake had been dating Kepler’s daughter Lisa after they met at a homeless shelter when Lisa’s parents kicked her out of the house. After they announced their relationship status on Facebook, Kepler found Lake’s home address using police resources. While Kepler’s attorney said that he was trying to protect his daughter, who was living in a “crime-filled neighbourhood,” the prosecution argued that Kepler had “hunted” Lake because his daughter had chosen to be with him.
When Kepler arrived at Lake’s address, he attempted to speak with his daughter, who walked away. When Lake walked toward the car, Kepler fired multiple shots at the teen. Kepler, who was off-duty at the time of the shooting, claimed at all four of his trials that he had shot Lake in self-defence, believing that the teen had a weapon with him. However, police officers found no weapons at the scene, and Lake’s aunt said her nephew was reaching out to shake Kepler’s hand to introduce himself when Kepler fired. Kepler left the scene without calling 911 or providing medical attention and turned himself in 2 ½ hours after the shooting.
From the beginning, the trials were dogged by questions of racism. Each of the three juries had only one black person on them, and prosecutors alleged that Kepler’s defence team was “systematically” removing black jury candidates. One of the jurors in the second trial wrote on Facebook that two of the jurors had refused to even discuss the case. “Just because he was a black kid who lived in a bad part of town, they could not look past that to bring justice to his family,” they said in their post.
Lake was shot just four days before black teen Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson, sparking national protests about police treatment of black people. Brown’s death was one of the incidents that started the Black Lives Matter movement, a network of activists working against racism in the legal system.
Lake’s hometown of Tulsa has been in the national news several times in the past few years after unarmed black people were shot by police. On May 17th, Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby was acquitted of the first-degree manslaughter of Terence Crutcher. Although Shelby testified that she shot Crutcher because she was afraid, prosecutors cited patrol car video footage showing that Crutcher had his hands in the air. Last year, volunteer sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates was convicted of the second-degree manslaughter of Eric Harris, who was restrained and unarmed. Bates claimed that he shot him because he confused his stun gun with his handgun.
After Kepler’s conviction, where the jurors recommended a 15-year sentence, civil rights activists are now satisfied with a “rare” conviction of a police officer in the shooting of a black civilian. But grief remains for those who knew Lake personally. “He is the kindest person. He is the most protective person and a good person who helped the homeless,” Lisa Kepler, 18, told NBC News. “I don’t know why my dad did this.”
For more news stories, click ‘NEXT POST.’ And why not ‘SHARE‘ on Facebook?