By Hazy Taughtme
The owner of a cannabis cultivation company in Oklahoma City is going to trial charged with first-degree murder. LaRue Bratcher is looking at an extensive sentence for shooting a man who broke into his business with the intent of burglarizing Bratcher’s establishment.
HOLDING OFF CRIMINALITY IN HIS BUSINESS
Bratcher, a black man, was originally charged with second-degree murder after shooting 42-year-old Daniel Hardwick, a white man and the suspect in the attempted burglary.
On May 26, 2020, Bratcher called the police from Premium Smoke, LLC, to call in the shooting. A rep with the Oklahoma City Police Department said, Hardwick “was trying to break in when the business owner, who was inside the business at the time, apparently opened fire with a handgun, striking and killing the man who was breaking in.”
Bratcher, an army veteran, is said to have fired warning shots. Instead, he struck Hardwick and killed him. The police connected to Hardwick to a separate and bungled attempted break-in that took place a few days before the break-in at Bratcher’s business.
Making a quick call to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, the police quickly found out 34-year-old Bratcher had an expired business license. This bizarre turn led to the entrepreneur’s arrest for growing weed without a license. The police confiscated over 400 marijuana plants at an estimated worth of $1.5 million.
LOOKING FOR JUSTICE?
According to reports, the Bratcher family has had its unpleasant contact with law enforcement since the incident. Bratcher posted bond and was home with his wife and five children. The prosecutor added second-degree murder charges.
In June, the police would raid the Bratcher home. They pointed their firearms at Vicky Bratcher as she held her six-month-old daughter. The police escorted the entire family at gunpoint into the street.
“It was a horrible experience,” Vicky said at the time.
Bratcher asked to speak with his family, telling authorities his mother had died the day before. His request was ignored. But according to Bratcher’s spouse, this was not necessarily common treatment. “He was never seen as a threat. He was thanked for his service, for his cooperations. The cops nor the detectives didn’t see him as a guilty man. They allowed him to sit with me in the car while they were doing their investigation.
“Now, why does the burglar become the victim in this situation?”
Later in the year, county district attorney, David Prater, upgraded Bratcher’s second-degree charges to first-degree murder. Prater also has a connection to the George Floyd protests where he charged BIPOC activists with terrorism.
Since Vicky Bratcher has run their business and taken care of the children. She does not understand the new murder charge.
“I want to say, ‘where’s the justice in Larue Bratcher?’ Because at the end of the day he was at his place of business, minding his own business.”
District Attorney Prater has not spoken publicly about the case. The trial is scheduled to begin this May.
No family members or friends of Hardwick have made a public comment either.
Oklahoma has the “stand your ground” law. This law allows an individual who feels threatened to use deadly force to defend themselves, their family, and property if they reasonably believe it is necessary.
This fits the bill based on the general circumstances that no one disputes happened at Bratcher’s business that May 26th. Now, Bratcher had an expired license, but according to the state’s Medical Marijuana Authority, Bratcher was waiting for renewal.
The legal apparatus is using the fact that, at the time of the incident, Bratcher had no legal standing for protecting himself because he didn’t have a cannabis license. They are arguing Bratcher’s actions were felonious and unlawful.
Noted criminal defense attorney, Clay Curtis, is representing Bratcher and his family. He claims it’s a justified shooting and “self-preservation. What Larue Bratcher did was reasonable and God forbid any one of us ever find ourselves in that situation.”
As for the license renewal, the attorney expounded on the license delay. “They wanted him to make a number of improvements to the building that he just couldn’t afford,” Curtis said, “but he was attempting to maintain his license and to do everything the right way.”
Vicky Bratcher clarifies the matter further. “At the time of the incident, his license was expired. He was trying to renew it but a lot happened. The state changed the guidelines and now we needed a compliance certificate. He never over $100,000 in fixtures. Around the same time, our daughter was born and his mom was diagnosed with cancer with a few months to live. And then there was COVID-19.”
Earlier this year, Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Authority restructured its policy. Now cardholders applying for a new license can continue to use expired ones until they receive the new one. Many wonder how things might have gone differently if this new policy was in place in May 2020.
COMMUNITY MEETS THE CHALLENGE
Early in May, family members and community advocates held a rally — a “cruise for LaRue Bratcher” — to support Bratcher, who still sits in jail.
“When you’re in trouble, somebody has to fight for you,” Bratcher’s uncle, Derrick Neighbors, told local station News 9. “This is my family and we’re going to fight for him.
“Someone broke into his place,” Neighbors said. “He didn’t go out looking for trouble. He was in his own place of business.”
The rally started at the Ice Event Center with a caravan of supporters. They made their way to downtown Oklahoma City, stopping at the jail where Bratcher awaits trial. The supporters remained there two hours, chanting and raising awareness for Bratcher.
Vicky Bratcher spoke before the crowd, thankful to see the community gathering in support of her husband’s release.
One of the daughters, LaRiah, told the rally, “I just wanted to thank everyone for supporting my Dad, and I just really miss him,” Bratcher’s daughter, LaRiah Bratcher, said at the rally, “I want him home because he’s my protector and supporter… every day when I wake up I just want him to be home.”
Bratcher’s wife cannot forget the phone call she got that day. Her husband called to tell his wife what happened at the marijuana grow business.
“He said, ‘I’m calling the cops now,’” she said. “I said, ‘I’ll be there right away.’”
“It’s just me with the kids and to know that you go from one charge to the next charge and not knowing what’s going to happen,” Bratcher’s wife said. “It’s like our life is at suspense right now.”
There is a petition demanding justice for Bratcher. It has over 3,900 signatures at this time.
Bratcher’s wife stresses that her husband is a good man, an Army veteran and a father of five. He isn’t a cold-blooded killer. “God will bring LaRue home. This will soon be over.”
Originally published on blackcannabismagazine.com on May 20th, 2021.