Mitchell shooting case dismissed after 4 years of court battle

by Mike Monahan

The case against Blackwell Police Lieutenant John Mitchell came to an end on June 22,2023 ending four years of court battles in the case.

“After living in hell, the past four years, the nightmare has finally ended for my family. I am so thankful for all the support for my family as we have slogged through the mud of the system. We can now finally breathe a sigh of relief and truly begin the healing from that fateful night in 2019,” said Mitchell.

The case started on May 19, 2019 when Mitchell and multiple Blackwell police officers were involved in an incident with Blackwell resident Micheal Godsey the evening of May 18 and into the early morning hours of May 19, 2019.

Godsey was eventually killed by police after a lengthy pursuit through Blackwell.

The case was investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and assigned to a special prosecutor out of Stephens County.

The investigation took until November 25, 2019, before a warrant was issued and charges were filed.

The preliminary hearing was held in Perry on February 18 and 19, 2020.

Mitchell was bound over on a charge of Manslaughter after the hearing.

The case was then moved back to Kay County for formal arraignment in front of Kay County District Judge Lee Turner.

Mitchell was arraigned on one count of first-degree manslaughter and pleaded not guilty in May 2020.

Over the course of the next 12 months, both sides filed multiple briefs for Turner to review with their arguments.

On August 12, 2021, Turner dismissed the case without fines or costs in a 44-page opinion.

The state then appealed to the Criminal Court of Appeals on two issues.

The appeals court 29-page decision outlined several issues in dismissing the case starting with The District Court did not abuse its discretion in sustaining Mitchell’s pretrial motion to quash.

At a preliminary hearing, the State is required to present sufficient evidence to establish (1) probable cause that a crime was committed, and (2) probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime.

The State is not required to present evidence at the preliminary hearing sufficient to convict. However, the evidence at the preliminary hearing must coincide with guilt and be inconsistent with innocence for a bind over to be proper.

In this case, the preliminary hearing evidence coincides not with guilt but solely with innocence.

“Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree when perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.” The State’s theory below was that Mitchell used excessive force in the apprehension of Godsey for multiple violent felony crimes and thus was subject to prosecution for first-degree manslaughter while resisting a criminal attempt by the victim.

The State reasoned that Mitchell failed to cease fire and give Godsey a chance to surrender when her truck turned onto 13th Street and came to a stop with its brake lights activated.

The State argued that Godsey was no longer fleeing at that point and her act of stopping the truck suggested compliance.

The State theorized that Godsey’s foot fell off the truck’s brake pedal after she was fatally wounded and no longer able to control the vehicle.

The defense argued, by contrast, that Mitchell’s use of deadly force was objectively reasonable based on the total facts and circumstances confronting him and the other police officers who were attempting to apprehend Godsey and thus the demurrer was proper.

The defense argued that Godsey was a violent fleeing felon who was an ongoing threat both to the responding officers and the public until the moment she surrendered.

Because Godsey gave no indication whatsoever to the responding officers that she was surrendering, and because she did not ever submit to their authority, the defense claimed Mitchell’s use of deadly force was objectively reasonable.

The defense argued too that, because there was no ballistics evidence presented by the State, there was no evidence demonstrating which officer’s bullets killed Godsey.

The District Court ruled in pertinent part that the State failed to present expert testimony showing that Mitchell’s use of force was excessive in light of the governing law and/or departmental policies.

The District Court also concluded that Godsey’s killing was justifiable homicide based on the totality of the circumstances and the governing state and federal law.

The District Court concluded that Mitchell’s use of force was reasonable for Fourth Amendment purposes and was not excessive.

On appeal, The State argues that Godsey appeared to be giving up after turning onto 13th Street.

The State argues the District Court erred in finding that it was required to present expert testimony at preliminary hearing to avoid demurrer.

The State argues that Godsey’s death was neither excusable nor justifiable and she was killed after her criminal attempts had failed.

Thus, the State tells us, it was appropriate for the magistrate to bind Mitchell over for trial on the charge of first-degree manslaughter, particularly given the probable cause standard that applies and the presumption that the state will strengthen its case at trial.

In Proposition Two, the State complains that Godsey’s killing was not justifiable under Oklahoma law because a reasonably prudent officer in the same or similar circumstances would not have used the same amount of force.

This Court must “allow for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

The record shows that the Blackwell Police Department’s use-of-force policy is based on the constitutional standards set forth in Graham and Garner. Judged by these standards, Mitchell’s actions were objectively reasonable, and he was not subject to prosecution for Godsey’s death.

The paramount governmental interest involved here is ensuring the safety of the public and the police officers who were attempting to apprehend Godsey.

It is clear from this record that Godsey posed an actual and imminent threat to the lives of anyone she encountered that night during the police pursuit.

Mitchell could reasonably use deadly force to eliminate the highly dangerous threat posed by Godsey to innocent bystanders in the vicinity of the chase and the officers who were attempting to stop her.

Taken in this context, Mitchell’s use of deadly force throughout the police pursuit was objectively reasonable.

Mitchell’sactions were reasonable under the total circumstances perceived by him at the time of the shooting. Lt. Mitchell was not subject to prosecution, in this case, because Godsey’s death amounted to a reasonable and necessary use of force to eliminate an immediate threat of violence and was a justifiable homicide.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the motion to quash based on this record.

“The Oklahoma Court of Appeals decision was a complete vindication of John Mitchell. It is rare to see a ruling by an appellate court where not only did they find in Mitchell’s favor, but they found that the evidence indicated he was innocent,” said Gary James, Attorney for John Mitchell. “John, his wife Rachel, their two boys and other family members have suffered the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of their lives as a result of these charges. Hopefully, they can now rest easy knowing that this four-year nightmare is over.”

James also added, “In this ruling, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has given guidance to courts on how to review the evidence as it relates to a police officer’s use of deadly force.I also want to commend Judge Lee Turner for his Order that was reviewed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. They upheld his ruling in a 5-0 decision. He worked diligently to provide an accurate record and an in-depth analysis of the issues.”