TULSA, Okla. – A jury on Wednesday acquitted Oklahoma Police Officer Betty Shelby of manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher.
Shelby believed lethal force was justified when she shot Crutcher last year. The incident sparked outrage since Shelby is white and Crutcher is black. Further exacerbating the circumstances is that Crutcher’s behavior wasn’t recognized as threatening to most people viewing limited video evidence. The headlines frequently highlighted, “unarmed black man,” yet there was far more to the story in this rush to judgment.
Officer Betty Shelby began public defense before trial
Shebly began to make her case during a 60 Minutes interview last month.
Her defense continued in criminal court as a defendant.
Shelby said she shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher out of fear because he didn’t obey commands to lie on the ground and appeared to reach inside his SUV for what she thought was a gun. His behavior was also consistent with someone under the influence of a controlled substance, a fact that was proven true.
Nevertheless, Crutcher’s father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, said in no uncertain terms: “Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder.”
Jurors reached their verdict after deliberating for just over nine hours, reported NewsOn6 in Oklahoma. A lawyer for Shelby said the officer was “elated” that the jury found her not guilty. “She’s ready to get back to her life,” defense attorney Shannon McMurray said.
The jury also showed emotion after reading the verdict. Many jurors started crying once they announced the decision and deputies passed around tissues.
Judge Doug Drummond said the jury was one of the most attentive and engaged he’s seen, saying they took the decision very seriously.
District attorney’s office
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler also spoke with the media after the verdict was read. Kunzweiler thanked the jury and said he respected the process. He said the jury applied law and evidence, which is what they were asked to do.
The shooting unfolded on Sept. 16 of last year. Shelby said that while she was headed to a different call, she encountered Crutcher near his SUV as it was stopped in the middle of a two-lane road. The officer testified that he refused to follow her commands — and after he reached his hands into the SUV’s open window, she fired.
Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted, arguing that Crutcher had his hands in their air and wasn’t combative. Dashcam video showed the man falling to the ground shortly after he appeared to reach into the SUV.
Drug influence was relevant
An autopsy found Crutcher had PCP in his system when he died. It is a dangerous drug that can trigger hallucinations, provide enormous power, and desensitize the user to pain.
His wife and others have said that was irrelevant to the case. But any police officer that has been forced to combat a person strung out on PCP will tell you it is very relevant.
Defense of Officer Betty Shelby
The defense attacked prosecutors for charging Shelby with first-degree manslaughter just six days after the shooting, saying the case was rushed.
Kunzweiler said defense attorneys know it was “a bad shoot.” But that opinion does not align with many cops, a key factor when prosecuting a case such as this.
Other Tulsa Police officers on the scene told jurors that in a similar situation they would have also used deadly force. The lead homicide investigator, Sgt. Dave Walker, said he was “angry” and “disrespected” by the district attorney when he did not wait for the investigation to be completed before filing charges. Walker testified for the defense that he would not have recommended criminal charges in the case.
As protests developed following the verdict, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also released a statement Wednesday night saying:
“I ask Oklahomans to respect our criminal justice system and especially the jurors, who heard the evidence from both sides in this case. Those who disagree with the verdict have the right to express their opinions; I just ask that they do so in a peaceful manner. I appeal to Tulsans and others to remain calm. Our thoughts and prayers should be with the Terence Crutcher and Betty Shelby families during this difficult time.”
(Photo courtesy Tulsa Police Department)