Cookie Queen's death a study in bad decisions, negligence and evasion of responsibility
Shannon Hanchett, 38, died in the Cleveland County Detention Center 12 days after her arrest by Norman Police on two misdemeanor charges
Unless something horribly untoward and unthinkable is found to have happened to Shannon Hanchett, and is not covered up, over the time she was incarcerated inside the Cleveland County Detention Center prior to her entirely avoidable death, it’s easy to guess how the case will ultimately go.
Norman Police officer Dustin Crawford and maybe other officers, too, will be found, following investigations by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Department, the state Medical Examiner’s Office and the OSBI, to have done nothing wrong — if anything is said at all — and given the type of policing all of us sort of take for granted, he probably didn’t.
Ditto for those involved with Hanchett’s handling after she became detained, because if nobody came to get her, what was anybody supposed to do?
Meanwhile, those who knew her — maybe thousands given her communal fame as Norman’s “Cookie Queen” operating the “Cookie Cottage” on downtown’s Main Street — will never understand how a 38-year-old mother and business owner could be left in the county jail on misdemeanor charges for making false 911 calls and officer obstruction for almost two weeks before being found non-responsive and dead in her cell?
The media outlet covering the story like a blanket is The Norman Transcript, my old paper, and if you want to read about Hanchett being found dead and the back story of her incarceration, go here.
And if you want to view 18 minutes of body-cam footage taking place inside a northwest Norman AT&T store, as well as a story about said footage, go here.
And should you be curious why Hanchett did not receive a mental health bed on any of the days beginning with her arrest up to her death despite their availability, even in Norman, and despite Hanchett being described by Crawford as “exhibiting behavior that was consistent with some type of mental health disorder,” you can go here.
Here’s the story:
Police were called to respond to an incident inside the aforementioned AT&T store on Saturday, Nov. 26.
Hanchett was concerned about the safety of her children, telling Crawford more than once her husband “has a gun.”
Crawford appears to speak to Hanchett’s husband and appears to receive an affirmative response that he would accept an officer coming to the house to check on Hanchett’s children.
According to The Transcript, in an obtained affidavit, Crawford said this:
“I contacted the defendant, who was exhibiting behavior that was consistent with some type of mental health disorder. In trying to gather more information from the defendant so that I could try to assist her, she stated that she was going to call 911. I instructed her not to call 911.
“The defendant disregarded my instruction and showed me the screen of her phone to prove that she had dialed 911. The defendant spoke to the dispatcher shortly before hanging up. I told the defendant that [she] was under arrest and she stated she was not, and that I could not arrest her.”
Eventually, as she screamed from the AT&T store floor, Hanchett was indeed arrested … before dying not long after midnight on Thursday, Dec. 8.
Maybe we’ll find out what happened during the “…” space.
Maybe the U.S. Department of Justice will take an interest, because I’m pretty sure Hanchett wasn’t supposed to die in custody and life, I’m also pretty sure, is a civil right.
Also, it’s hard to imagine a world in which the county authorities who run the jail were not collectively negligent in Hanchett’s death. And just as it’s easy to imagine that despite Crawford’s response to Hanchett inside the AT&T store being measured, calm and presumedly by the book, viewing the incident from the forest and not the trees reveals the inherent failures of what all of us have come to understand as “policing.”
Begin with the most obvious.
The arresting officer himself says Hanchett was “exhibiting behavior … consistent with some type of mental health disorder,” and still she was taken to jail.
This despite, as reported by The Transcript’s Misty Ragan Wood, state department of mental health and substance abuse services spokesperson Jeffrey Dismukes’ assertion that mental health beds were available at Griffin Memorial Mental Health Hospital, in Norman, not to mention myriad other options around the state.
In the same story, an NPD spokesperson claimed Hanchett “did not meet criteria under state law for an involuntary protective custody detention.”
Two things about that:
• So the f--- what (STFW).
• As if that meant Hanchett’s arrest was the only option to begin with.
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STFW because a technicality like that doesn’t begin to excuse somebody being forgotten in county jail for 12 days, upon which they die.
STFW because the idea Crawford’s hands were tied cannot be true. Can’t a cop, any cop, think on their feet? It’s tantamount to confirming police may not use their common sense, which is asinine and indefensible.
STFW because will local and county agencies ever understand how reprehensible their spokespersons make them look when issuing ludicrous, besides-the-point, condescending statements like that one, while simultaneously disallowing those actually involved to speak for themselves? For something like this, media should be calling officers on their very own phones and, at the least, making them say “no comment.”
STFW because the job of all sides should be to find out how and why Hanchett remained detained and died. But when will a concerned NPD acknowledge the tragedy and its own thirst for answers, rather than hide behind an infuriating statement designed to make the issue go away?
Do such agencies value the public’s trust?
Now the arrest.
Though Crawford told Hanchett not to call 911, it’s nonetheless clear she called out of genuine fear, misguided or not, for her children’s welfare. She did not disobey him to defy him.
She also feared him.
It’s clear in the body-cam footage that Hanchett wanted a female employee to join her as she visited with Crawford, but he wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps there’s a good reason he didn’t allow it, but it’s also a signal of Hanchett’s fear and discomfort of being confronted by a male officer with a gun while also worried about her children, in the presence of her husband, who she believed possessed a gun.
What was the need for Hanchett to be told she was going to be arrested, when she just as easily could have been told she would only be detained if she had to be, after which she would be taken for mental health evaluation rather than be arrested because locking her up served literally no purpose?
Or, given Crawford’s belief Hanchett was indeed having a mental health episode, could he not have sought out family beyond her husband to help?
Or, if that’s beyond Crawford’s purview, shouldn’t there be somebody for whom it’s not? Because in what world does throwing a 38-year-old mother and business owner, loved by the community, into jail on two victimless misdemeanors serve justice?
Also, just so we’re clear, it’s not even an NPD problem but an everywhere problem, borne of lack of imagination and a culture prizing expediency over problem-solving.
Of course, Cleveland County’s the entity truly left in the lurch. It’s the one with serious, serious exposure, like a seven-figure (or eight?) wrongful death suit, because how could it let this happen?
Even if Hanchett is found to have died from a cardiac event, a stroke or some other malady apparently indirect to her geography, will anybody believe she would have simply died anyway had she been home with her kids or receiving health care.
There were good reasons she never be arrested in the first place and infinite reasons the county should have sought her release even if the charges had to stand.
Twelve days incarcerated for a couple misdemeanors, did they think it was going to end well?
Yet, for all of it, a tragedy entirely avoidable, nobody’s likely to be deemed responsible, while the institutions that beg our trust will continue to wonder why they don’t have it.
Just maybe, media will quit going to spokespersons whose only interest is evading the responsibility of their employer and start making the principals get on the record.
She was 38.
She died in her cell 12 days after her arrest on victimless charges.