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.
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?”
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