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Analysis of ’60 Minutes’ Interview With Officer Betty Shelby

Criminally indicted Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby submitted to an interview with Bill Whitaker on 60 Minutes Sunday night.

Watching the show, I realized there are glaring weaknesses in jurisprudence, as a few district attorneys prosecute cops for actions deemed criminal in nature following officer-involved shootings (OIS).

Can a police officer receive a fair trial when prosecuted for purported criminality that stemmed from an on-duty shooting? I do not believe so.

Whether the officer is innocent or guilty is irrelevant. And this is why.

There are no police officers on the jury! At times I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when making reference to Graham v. Conner. It is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1989. The ruling is fundamental to every OIS investigation. Yet it is widely misunderstood by the public.

Furthermore, when a prosecutor files criminal charges against a police officer involved in a fatal shooting, occasionally the precedent appears to be disregarded. We have seen several instances in recent years when they act as if the case does not exist while making a public denouncement of the police actions in question.

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Betty Shelby interviewed on 60 Minutes

I considered this while watching 60 Minutes Sunday night. Bill Whitaker interviewed Officer Betty Shelby, Tulsa Police Department. She is being prosecuted for the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher.

I feared that Shelby might bury herself. But that did not happen. She presented a logical explanation of her actions. You can agree or disagree with her decision, but she explained her state of mind, and that is paramount. The standard in Graham v. Conner is what would a “reasonable officer on the scene, in the same or similar circumstances” do.

No police officers on the jury

Because that is the standard, no police officer can receive a fair trial since there will be no cops sitting on the jury!

Presence of PCP

Betty Shelby believed Crutcher was under the influence of narcotics, possibly PCP. Moreover, medical findings revealed he had PCP in his system when he was shot Sept. 16, 2016.

In my jurisdiction we referred to someone on PCP as a “Duster,” due to the drug being called “Angel Dust.” A Duster is checked out of reality and mentally in another zone. Furthermore, someone under the influence of PCP has out-of-this-world strength. A non-compliant Duster is potentially a lethal weapon.

“Was he showing any aggression?” Whitaker asked. Shelby had to answer no, but someone with PCP in his system is a walking time bomb. Passive behavior can quickly be followed by Herculean efforts.

Non-compliance

Her partner, Officer Tyler Turnbaugh, heard the commands. “Stop. Get on the ground. Don’t go back to your car.” He said his Taser was drawn since Shelby had her firearm out. The roles easily could have been reversed. Yet both were at the ready position to give them multiple force options.

Shelby’s perception that Crutcher reached into his vehicle led to his demise. She was not the only one to react to the perceived threat as the Taser was also used.

“Do you have any regrets about this?” Whitaker asked.

“I have sorrow that this happened that this man lost his life but he caused the situation to occur.” Shelby replied. “So in the end, he caused his own (death).”

Whitaker asked Shelby many questions, but he omitted one. What would happen if Terence Crutcher complied with orders?

He’d be alive!

Ironically, it was Crutcher’s sister, Tiffany that rhetorically voiced the question during her interview. And her response was in line with the lawless culture that has invaded mainstream America. She questioned Shelby’s motives and legal authority for issuing orders in the first place.

“You know, why did she want him to comply?” Tiffany said. “I’m– I– I’m still curious. What crime was he committing? Why were you on the scene?”

Cultural undercurrent

Voila—there you have it. Race was previously interjected during the interview, and now the duties and responsibilities of a police officer are in question. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is my paraphrased interpretation:

This tragedy was caused by a ‘trigger-happy-cop’ that was afraid of a black man. She should not have been there in the first place. Furthermore, we (people that oppose law enforcement efforts) don’t need to listen to cops that we don’t trust or respect.

“Stand in the shoes”

Finally, returning to the Graham decision, not only is the officer’s state of mind paramount, but did he or she act in accordance with the “reasonable officer on the scene, in the same or similar circumstances.”

Be mindful that you cannot “stand in the shoes” of the officer involved in the incident from the sidelines or the news studio. Yet everyone thinks they can. Therefore, the only way a jury can see things through the perspective of a police officer is to hear the testimony of cops. I believe if 12 professional law enforcement officers testified in this case, it would easily end in a hung jury because their responses would be varied.

Now, the future of Betty Shelby will rely upon varied opinions of non-police officers sitting in judgment of her actions.

– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today

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Author
Jim McNeff

Jim McNeff worked in military and civilian law enforcement for 31 years. He retired as a police lieutenant with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief with Law Enforcement Today. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) course, Leadership in Police Organizations. He authored "The Spirit behind Badge 145" and "Justice Revealed." He is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at jrmcneff@gmail.com or view his website www.badge145.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at "Badge 145 - Trending Truth" or Twitter @jimmcneff.

I think she will be OK, but it is an indictment of our times that this good person must go through this. It is too bad that there cannot be some kind of bar or threshold set for individuals that must judge violent incidents. Especially with, but not limited to, the police, the vast majority of people sitting in judgement have never had the adrenaline roller coaster that comes with violence. As a young man, I was involved in a few interpersonal disagreements of a physical nature. All were crazy, involved threats of death by one party or the other, and used epithets regarding race and/or appearance. My adversary would say something like “I will kill your white ass, you fat, bald headed honky butt mumfer.” This would indicate – and be used as evidence of – a hate crime, but all it is is the language of violence. And anybody that has been through it knows it. Crutcher was desperate to get back to his car – anybody can see that. I may have fallen down the stairs at the skunktown police station but even I can see that anybody with half a brain would have feared for their lives in her position. I wish her the best.

your argument is fault on two accounts first she assume he was on pcp and you stated Duster is potentially a lethal weapon. the potential of him being dangerous is not proof at the time of shooting he was so that argument goes out the window second shebly excuse she was fearful of her life doesn’t hold up he was walking away from her with his hand in the air that a universal sign of submission and how could shebly know he was possible going to his vehicle for a weapon and reaching in window went video clearly show the window was roll up

Ron you misunderstood the article. I was not making a case for guilt or innocence. The purpose was to point out the reality of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Conner. And because of it, a police officer accused of murder or manslaughter as a result of an on-duty shooting is unable to receive a fair trial under the current legal system.

Police officers get more than fair trials, IF they even get to trial. Can you tell me the number of officers that have been convicted in 2014 and 2015 for an on-duty shooting? ZERO! In fact, the entire system bends over backwards to protect officers from even getting to trial. Many DAs act as personal defense attorneys for officers during the grand jury process. (See the GQ article on the Tamir Rice grand jury) Hell, the officer in the Walter Scott case got a hung jury even though the video clearly showed the officer shooting Scott in the back and planting evidence. Today’s police officers with the “Woe is me” and the “walk in my shoes” attitudes frankly disgusts me. If there if one profession in this country that receives every benefit of the doubt and protection from the system, it’s LE. And it’s dangerous to the public.

Ahaz you didn’t do your homework. Perhaps you should research Baltimore police Officer Wesley Cagle, Rocky Ford police Officer James Ashby, or Virginia police Officer Stephen Rankin. Those are just the cases I’m familiar with. And I’ve already written quite a bit about the cases you’ve mentioned. I’m not going to rehash each one in this format, but feel free to continue to peruse our website in search of these details. We appreciate every hit, particularly since you are obviously no fan of LEOs.

So you happened to mention convictions of officers that occurred in 2016. And even with those additions, the number of officers convicted since 2005 still equate to less than 20. And BTW, wanting police to be held accountable doesn’t mean anti-police.

The idea that a cop cannot receive a fair trial unless there are cops on the jury is ludicrous.

And dangerous. Police officers already get too much benefit of the doubt in many cases. Now they should be judged by a separate criminal justice system made up only of themselves? .

Agreed. The public has bought into the false narrative that officers have to make split second decisions. They don’t and if they are ever in a situation that requires such a decision, its the officers poor tactics that helped create the situations. Tamir Rice, John Crawford just to name a couple of recent examples. The public fails to understand how militarized police have become and how bastardized the standard set forth in the farcical “Graham V Conner” has become. in today’s policing environment, where every officer is conditioned to fear for their life, it’s become perfectly acceptable to utilize deadly force based upon a perceived threat instead of actual ones. And the saddest part is that too many police leaders and prosecutors condone such beliefs. It’s sad and until thee public demands that LE changes, we will see more and more questionable shootings.

Thank you Ron Nelson, Duggle Bogey, and Joel Hardman. You’ve sufficiently proven my point. Based upon your comments I sincerely doubt that you would be willing to give Betty Shelby the presumption of innocence until guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. By the way, that is required of a potential juror.

This idea is neither ludicrous nor dangerous as you have scolded. Actually, we already have a model in place. It is called a court martial in the military. A court martial is highly effective at seeking justice. Members of the military do not avoid criminal charges when allegations of misconduct cross the line. There are plenty of former service men and women sitting in federal prison as a result, and service-members sat in judgment, ultimately sending them to incarceration.

Moreover, the criminal justice system would do well to take several pages out of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It is far more efficient and effective. However, I have no grand illusions this will happen. Yet based upon an effective model in place–UCMJ–along with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that has established this as a benchmark, it should.

Your predispositions that police cannot judge their own is incorrect. We do it all the time. Every time you read a news headline about a “cop getting busted,” who do you think made the arrest? Other police officers! I’ve reviewed internal policies for several civilian organizations, and none come close to internal protocols established in professional police departments. As a matter of fact I’ve consulted with private organizations seeking solutions when handling problem employees.

Finally, I’ve personally arrested a few officers in addition to sitting in judgment of others during Internal Affairs (IA) investigations. While I don’t know your individual backgrounds, I’d be willing to bet I’ve handled more IA’s than you would have guessed. And many of them led to bad news for the accused officer, while many other cops were exonerated due to spiteful people making false accusations.

So yes, I sincerely believe police officers, with no affiliation to the accused, would be able to ethically sit in judgement of them during these encounters.

But nevertheless, thank you for the comments.

Many of your arguments just don’t make sense, especially the reference to the UCMJ. Police are not military and the military has completely different standards of conduct. In fact, I doubt many police departments or officers could operate under the the UCMJ. There are no union negotiated agreements that allow bad cops to get
their jobs back or environments that create gypsy cops allowing bad cops move to anotherr jurisdiction to avoid firing or prosecution. And finally the UCMJ is there to enforce good order and discipline of the command and reinforce the authority of the command. Local commanders have the authority to issue discipline and one of the reasons why there are so few court martials in the Armed forces. Today’s police couldn’t handle that level of scrutiny or accountability for their actions.

Wrong on every point of law. The defense is free to call as many LEO expert witnesses as they need to establish the standard of what a reasonable PO would do in a given situation. By your standard, a Dr. being tried for malpractice (in that case the defendant is held to the ‘standard of care of a competent physician’) could only receive a fair trial if the jury was composed of other doctors. With all due respect, that’s not a fair jury but a packed jury.

Bruce I’ve considered your analogy regarding many professions, but especially the medical industry. In general, medical boards actually handle malpractice. If circumstances cross the line to manslaughter or murder, than naturally there is a criminal investigation. But think about this for a moment. How many patients are lost on the operating table every year? What if a doctor nicked a vital organ with a sharp surgical instrument and the patient dies? Likewise, there are critical decisions made by specialists during surgery that do not go well, and the patient dies. Anesthesiologists err in their judgment regarding doses of medication during surgical procedures, and the patient does not survive. In these case, doctors are not charged with crimes. They are certainly not going to be charged with murder. Civil remedies, YES. Criminal, NO.

Lastly, I am unaware of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that does for physicians what Graham v. Conner offers law enforcement. Are you? Therein lies the difference. And it is significant. If there is such a case, then yes, I’d take the same position for them.

Gentleman, we clearly have a different worldview. But that’s all right. It would be a boring place if we all thought the same. I hope each one of you has a good day. And I sincerely mean it.

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