Inside the Supreme Court

Petition to Decision

Papers of Supreme Court Justices on Civil Rights Cases

David Achtenberg

Professor & Law Foundation Scholar

UMKC School of Law

Kansas City, MO 64110-2499



Oklahoma City v. Tuttle


Notes to Tuttle’s Background Story
1.  The deceased was named William Adam Tuttle and that name is used throughout the testimony, lower court opinion, the Supreme Court briefs, and the Appendix.  Oddly, Justice Rehnquist’s opinion (and all drafts of that opinion) refer to him as Albert Tuttle.  My best speculation is that Justice Rehnquist or one of his clerks was thinking of Judge Elbert Tuttle, who served with great distinction and courage on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit during the most contentious years of the civil rights movement.  At the time Oklahoma City v. Tuttle was being decided, Elbert Tuttle was 87 years old but was still serving as a Senior Judge on the recently created Eleventh Circuit.  In any event, none of the other justices or clerks noticed the error and the mistake was never corrected. 

2.  It was subsequently stipulated that Tuttle had called in the report himself and that he had described the "robber" as a 37 year old, white male with brown hair and glasses—a description that fit Tuttle himself.

Both parties agreed that Tuttle was, in fact, unarmed.  There was testimony that a toy gun fell out of Tuttle’s boot during surgery after the shooting.  However, there was also testimony that two officers at the scene had checked the boot by feeling for weapons and had found nothing.  The plaintiff argued by implication that the toy gun might have been planted either at the scene or by one of the officers who accompanied Tuttle in the ambulance to the hospital.

4.  The defense argued that Tuttle may have been attempting to commit "suicide by cop," i.e., luring a police officer to the scene and intentionally causing the officer to believe that Tuttle was attempting to shoot him.  This argument was consistent with the fact that Tuttle originally called in the report and with the testimony that a toy gun was subsequently found in Tuttle’s boot.  It was also supported by testimony that Tuttle had unsuccessfully attempted suicide six months earlier.
5.  Justice Rehnquist’s opinion recites Officer Rotramel’s testimony.  For a more complete description of the factual dispute, see the Court of Appeals decision, Tuttle v. Oklahoma City, 728 F.2d. 456, 457-459 (10th Cir. 1984), the Supreme Court Appendix, and the briefs of the parties.  The basic points of dispute can be roughly summarized as follows:
  • Officer Rotramel testified that he had to physically restrain Tuttle from leaving the bar by grabbing his arm and holding him.  Plaintiff’s witnesses testified that Tuttle complied with Rotramel’s order to remain in the bar (at least initially) and that Rotramel did not grab or restrain Tuttle.

  • Officer Rotramel testified that, while he was restraining Tuttle in the bar, Tuttle twice reached for something in his cowboy boot.  Plaintiff’s witnesses testified that Tuttle never reached for his boot. 

  • Officer Rotramel testified that Tuttle broke free and ran out of the building.  Plaintiff’s witnesses said Tuttle simply walked out.

  • Officer Rotramel testified that, when cleared the doorway, he shouted at Tuttle to halt.  Plaintiff’s witnesses said he had not done so.

  • Officer Rotramel testified that, when he cleared the doorway, he saw Tuttle crouched down with his hand at his boot and that he shot Tuttle only after Tuttle jumped out of his crouch and started to turn toward him in a threatening manner.  Plaintiff’s witnesses testified that Rotramel fired as soon as he cleared the door, and plaintiff’s medical evidence indicated that Tuttle had been shot in the back while still crouched over.  


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