A Kay County judge issued an order to dismiss the criminal case against a Blackwell Police lieutenant in the deadly shooting of an armed suspect. District Judge Lee Turner notified both prosecutors and the defense that he intends to sign the order Thursday afternoon dismissing the manslaughter charge against Lt. John Mitchell.
Mitchell, 41, was expected to stand trial for first-degree manslaughter, after the state multi-county grand jury returned an indictment in November 2019. The Multi-County Grand Jury concluded Mitchell engaged in “imminently dangerous conduct” when he fired dozens of shots at the suspect, 34-year-old Michael Ann Godsey, during a pursuit in Blackwell. The Grand Jury indicted Mitchell on a second-degree murder count, and an alternative count of first-degree manslaughter.
Mitchell and his supporters, many who are law enforcement officers, have publicly expressed their displeasure with the prosecution of the case. They were stunned when at the completion of the preliminary hearing in Feb. 2020, an associate judge determined there was enough evidence to send the lieutenant to trial on the manslaughter charge. The second-degree murder charge was dismissed by the court at the preliminary hearing.
“It was a sad day for law enforcement and society,” defense attorney Gary James said. James had hoped the judge would’ve thrown out the both counts of the indictment. James further defended his client stating, “Godsey was a violent, fleeing felon” when Mitchell fired shots at her truck.
In asking the court to quash the indictment, James said the state had insufficient evidence against the lieutenant.
“She shot at police twice, shot at her own mother. She shot at an innocent driver. We know she fired other rounds around town,” James said. Godsey was “an extremely dangerous and armed person”. Furthermore, he argued that the state failed to prove that Mitchell fired the fatal shots.
On May 20, 2019, dash-camera video showed a rolling gun battle between Blackwell Police officers and Godsey. A chase ensued after officers received complaints that the driver of a white truck was firing shots around town. Godsey had allegedly shot at a random car as well as the first responding officer.
Prosecutors say the lieutenant got involved mid-pursuit and fired approximately 60 rounds during the pursuit and after the suspect’s truck came to a stop. They also allege Mitchell first used an AR-15 then fired further with a handgun. Godsey was found dead in the driver seat of her truck, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds.
District Attorney Jason Hicks, the prosecutor assigned to the case, alleged Godsey was surrendering when her truck stopped. Hicks said the lieutenant never gave her a chance. Hicks would have to convince a jury that Mitchell’s actions were unnecessary to get a conviction.
Hicks was appointed in 2019 to prosecute Mitchell’s case. Hicks is the district attorney for four counties in south-central Oklahoma – Stephens, Grady, Jefferson, and Caddo Counties. He issued the following statement Thursday:
"I disagree with the opinion, and we will be seeking relief from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals."
James argued there was no evidence to show Godsey was going to surrender. He also claimed that investigators failed to prove whether Godsey stopped the truck on her own, or it became disabled for other reasons.
The fatal shots have also been scrutinized. Prosecutors alleged Mitchell continued shooting at a time when other officers did not.
The defense argued the investigation failed to determine whether Mitchell was the officer who fired the deadly rounds.
According to court records, two officers fired shots but at different rates of fire. One was considered justified, one was not. Mitchell maintains he acted in the interest of public safety.
The order issued today, found Mitchell would not stand trial for manslaughter. After further consideration of evidence, the judge found issues with the state’s evidence and determined there was not probable cause that Mitchell acted unreasonably, nor that the state presented evidence the force was excessive.
James praised judge’s ruling, stating, “Judge Turner’s order has upheld Oklahoma law requiring that evidence must be presented at the preliminary hearing that a police officers force was excessive." He went on to say, “This ruling today is a win for all law enforcement officers in Oklahoma."
Mitchell is still working for the Blackwell Police Department, but was reassigned after his indictment.