Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby, accused of fatally shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher last September, has been found not guilty of first-degree manslaughter.
Shelby shot and killed Crutcher, an unarmed black man, on September 16, 2016, after responding to a report of a broken down car in the middle of a road. Shelby, 43, fired the single shot that killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in Tulsa, the Associated Press reports.
The trial began in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, court earlier this month. The jury, made up of three men and nine women, including two black women and a black man, deliberated for about nine hours before finding Shelby not guilty of all charges.
Reporters inside the courtroom said Shelby was smiling when the verdict was read, while the Crutcher family cried. Shelby faced two counts of first-degree manslaughter, for the heat of passion and criminal intent, and she was found not guilty of both.
The investigator wrote that Shelby, “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher, who was not responding to verbal commands and was walking away from her with his hands up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted. Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating and [sic] weapon was present.”
Tulsa Police said the shooting occurred near 36th Street and Lewis Avenue about 7:30 p.m., KOTV reports.
Crutcher’s SUV had stalled in the middle of the road, and police arrived to check on the situation, according to the news station.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Shelby was on the way to another call when she encountered Crutcher and his vehicle. Jordan, who said he is unable to release many details because of open investigation, said Shelby requested backup because she was “not having cooperation” from Crutcher.
The officer who deployed his Taser was named as Tyler Turnbough. He is not facing charges.
First-degree manslaughter is a felony and Shelby faced a minimum sentence of four years in prison and a maximum of life if she had been found guilty. Shelby was charged September 22 and has been free on $50,000 bail since.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Crutcher’s Sister & Father Say ‘Betty Shelby Murdered’ Him & Got Away With It
Terence Crutcher’s father told reporters outside the courtroom that he doesn’t understand how the jury reached its decision, saying Betty Shelby murdered his son. And Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s sister, gave an emotional statement after the verdict was announced:
This is definitely a tough pill to swallow. The facts were there. All the elements of manslaughter were there. Terence’s hands were up. Terence was not an imminent threat. Terence did not attack her. Terence did not charge at her. Terence was not the aggressor. Betty Shelby was the aggressor. Betty shelby had the gun. betty shelby was following him with the gun. Betty Shelby murdered my brother. And after she murdered by brother all of the officers involved with the Tulsa Police Department tried to cover for her. A coverup was exposed. They walked by my brother to go check on Betty Jo and the last few breaths of his life he laid their alone. And these are officers who are paid to serve and protect us. Trained to deal with people who are supposedly intoxicated or inebriated. But yet you use deadly force. No weapon was found. Terence had just left school. Terence had just left Tulsa Community College because he wanted to do something with his life. And I just thank God that he doesn’t judge us as our sins deserve. I’m going to make sure that I don’t rest until we get reform for this police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and until we change the culture.
A civil case is expected against Shelby, the city of Tulsa and its police department.
“The list just goes on and on of unarmed black men getting killed by white police officers and they get away with it,” attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the family, told reporters. “I thought that Tulsa would be the example that said all American citizens are granted their due process of the law and it does not matter if you are a young African-American man. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler also spoke to reporters:
I want people to think about what this case was about. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have a constitution that guarantees the right to trial by jury. Oklahoma’s constitution guarantees a trial by jury. This is a case that had to be tried by a jury. So what we asked was for 12 people from a cross-section of our community, men and women, who came in, they sacrificed their time and they sacrificed their effort to do their job. And that’s what I asked them to do, was just uphold the rule of law. One person is killed and another person is claiming their is justification or that there’s a reason to defend themselves. And in many respects these are the types of cases that have to be determined by 12 who are tried and true. And so what I respect is the process that we went through. The true reality is we all know it was a difficult case. We know it impacts our community. And yet here we are, we are moving forward. Tomorrow I’m going to get up and I’m going to continue to prosecute cases just like I did the day before. Police officers are going to continue to try and protect our community. Victims are going to continue to be victimized, whether it is a person or a business or just society in general.
Kunzweiler told reporters, “I’m proud of this system. I’m proud of this jury. … We have to live with that judgement.”
Jurors were given the case on Wednesday afternoon after closing arguments were held that morning. The verdict was announced about 9:50 p.m. Wednesday.
“This jury has worked very hard to come to a result,” Judge Doug Drummond told the court, according to Tulsa World reporter Andrea Eger. “This was a very difficult case with lots of difficult issues and I hope everyone can acknowledge that. I’m asking you to trust the system.”
Eger said after the verdict was read, Shelby’s attorney Shannon McMurray wrapped her arm around the officer and hugged her waist.
The jury was told they would not be able to leave until a decision was made.
After about six hours of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge asking how they would deliver their verdict and if they could make an explanation when doing so. The judge responded that the verdict would be read in open court, but the jury could not give an explanation at that time. They will be allowed to speak to the public after the verdict is delivered if they choose.
The trial began May 8 and came to a close on May 17 with closing arguments and the jury’s verdict.
Separate groups supporting Shelby and the Crutcher family had gathered outside the courthouse prior to the announcement of the not guilty finding. Shelby’s supporters, holding signs reading ISWB (I Stand With Betty) cheered the not guilty verdict, while Crutcher’s supporters, including local Black Lives Matter activists, began chanting “No justice, no peace,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
An increased police presence was expected at the courthouse. Protests after the shooting of Crutcher remained peaceful, and activists have called for that to remain the same, regardless of the verdict.
The city’s mayor and police chief have planned a press conference for Thursday morning to address the verdict.
Shelby and her defense team left the courthouse without speaking with reporters. It is not clear if members of the jury, who appeared to express interest in giving a reason for their decision, will speak to the press.
2. Shelby Testified That She Feared for Her Life When She Fatally Shot Crutcher
Shelby testified that she “feared for her life” when she fatally shot Crutcher. She took the stand in her own defense on the second to last day of the trial, prior to closing arguments.
“We’re not trained to see what comes out of a car. We’re trained to stop a threat, and by all indications, he was a threat,” she testified. Shelby said Crutcher’s death was his fault.
“I did everything I could to stop this,” Shelby testified, according to KOTV.
A fellow officer testified that Shelby told him after the shooting, “I can’t believe he made me do it,” speaking about Crutcher.
According to the Tulsa World, defense attorney Shannon McMurray said during her closing argument, “Our officers will continue to have to make split-second decisions so that we can all remain safe and so we can all go home and so they can go home.”
She gave a statement to homicide detectives in September, the New York Times reports.
Her attorney, Scott Wood, told the Times that Shelby thought Crutcher had a weapon. He also said Crutcher “had acted erratically, refused to comply with several orders, tried to put his hand in his pocket and reached inside his car window before he was shot.”
Wood told the Tulsa World the incident began about two minutes before the dashcam video started. Shelby was the first officer on the scene, coming upon Crutcher’s broken down SUV, and called for backup. Her dashcam did not record video, according to police. The video begins when backup arrives.
Wood told the newspaper Crutcher was not with his SUV when she arrived, “so she isn’t really sure what’s going on.”
The attorney told the Tulsa World that Crutcher ignored the officer’s commands several times and didn’t answer her questions and reached for his pockets several times despite Shelby telling him not to.
Wood said that Shelby, based on drug-recognition training, believed Crutcher was acting erratically because he was under the influence of PCP. The drug was found in his system.
In a statement as the trial came to a close, Dr. Rodney Goss, said the defense tried to put Crutcher on trial.
“In spite of anything that Terence may have done in his past that may have a negative turn to it, it does not justify murder,” he said. “It doesn’t matter; she didn’t have a toxicology report when she murdered him. She didn’t know about anything in his past when she murdered him.”
Prosecutors claimed police were trying to cover up for Shelby because they knew had made a “bad shoot,” something McMurray strongly disputed.
“(He) has the audacity to tell you that officers will come in here and lie to protect Betty Shelby, but then asks to bring officers here and put you, me, or other citizens in prison?” McMurray said about the district attorney. “Hypocritical.”
The prosecutor made the decision to bring the charges before the homicide investigators report was completed, something the Tulsa Police Department’s lead detective and defense attorneys have objected to. They say a political decision was made to bring charges against Shelby, who has received widespread support from fellow officers and police officials.
Shelby’s attorney put the blame on Crutcher for his own death during her closing argument.
“Terence Crutcher made those choices (to not comply,)” McMurray said in her closing argument. “Sad choices. Tragic choices.” Of his death, she said, “It is tragic, but it doesn’t mean it’s a crime.”
3. The DA Asked During His Closing Argument Why Shelby Was More Scared Than She’d Been in Her Life & Why Officers Told Her Not to Talk to Anyone
During his closing argument, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler asked the jury to consider “why” about several different elements of the case, KOKI-TV reports.
Kunzweiler asked “why Shelby said she had ‘never been so scared in (her) life.” He also asked why she was allowed to see the dashboard camera video before her interview with homicide detectives and why officers told her not to talk at the scene. He told the jury that was because officers knew it was a “bad shoot.”
He also said the jury had to ask themselves if Crutcher was reaching for something. He says the evidence shows he was not.
Kunzweiler also asked Shelby while she testified why she did not use her Taser, like another officer did. Shelby told him her training did not call for a Taser to be used at that point.
“There’s not one single witness who observed Mr. Crutcher make any type of aggressive movement toward Betty Shelby,” Kunzweiler said during his closing argument, the Tulsa World reports.
Another prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray, told jurors they believe Shelby “guessed” Crutcher had a gun and fired too quickly.
“We think it’s wrong to give officers special treatment. They don’t,” he said, referring to the defense, the Tulsa World reports.
Gray also referenced a comment by Shelby’s attorney that Crutcher took a risk by being non compliant, saying, “When you’re a Tulsa Police officer and you shoot an unarmed man … that’s the chance you take.”
4. The Shooting Was Recorded on Dashboard Cameras & From a Helicopter Above the Scene
You can watch the dashcam video released by police above or by clicking here if the player does not load. The video is graphic. The shooting occurs about the 1:40 mark.
The video shows Terence Crutcher walking toward his SUV with his arms held in the air, as Officer Betty Jo Shelby follows behind him with her gun drawn and a second officer approaches with his Taser drawn. He has his back to her and the other officer. Crutcher appears to lean toward the SUV with Shelby at his side and the other officer behind him. A single shot can then be heard and other officers run toward the SUV.
Crutcher then collapses to the ground and Shelby yells into the radio, “Shots fired!”
The Tulsa Police Department released other videos from the shooting. The first video shows the scene of the shooting from a police helicopter. In the video, one of the helicopter pilots says, Crutcher, “looks like a bad dude … might be on something.” The video is very graphic:
You can watch other videos here.
Crutcher’s sister mentioned the “bad dude” comment during a press conference, saying his life mattered.
“We are truly devastated, the entire family is devastated,” said Tiffany Crutcher, Terence’s twin sister. “You all want to know who that big bad dude was? That big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father. That big bad dude was a son. That big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College. … That big bad dude loved God. That big bad dude was at church singing with all his flaws every week. That big bad dude, that’s who he was.”
Authorities called the video troubling.
“The video is very disturbing. It’s very difficult to watch,” Police Chief Chuck Jordan said at a press conference. He and several officials said Monday that “justice” will be found, and there will be no cover-up of what happened. Jordan and others said they could not comment extensively on the shooting or the video, citing the open case.
5. Shelby Remained on Paid Leave While Facing the Manslaughter Charge
Shelby remained on paid administrative leave while facing the manslaughter charge. It is not clear if she will return to active duty after the not guilty verdict.
She was hired by the Tulsa Police Department in 2011 after working for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office from June 2007 to November 2011, according to the police department.
She resigned from her position to join the Tulsa department.
According to the news station, Shelby wrote in her resignation letter she would be “honored and grateful” to work for the sheriff’s office in the future.
It was not her husband that made the comment about Crutcher being a “bad dude.” The other officer in the helicopter hasn’t been identified.
Shelby’s mother-in-law, Lois Shelby, told the Associated Press that Betty Shelby is grieving for the victim’s family and is not prejudiced.
Lois Shelby told the AP her daughter-in-law, “thought she had to protect her own life,” when she fired the fatal shot.
She added that Betty Shelby has always wanted to be a police officer.
Terence Crutcher was the father of four children, the Washington Post reports. His family says his SUV stalled as he headed home from class at Tulsa Community College, where he had been studying music appreciation.
Crutcher was also involved in his church, including singing in the choir, according to the Tulsa World.
His pastor, Terry Shannon, told the newspaper it was a “blessing and a joy” to be Cructher’s pastor, saying he attended the church “faithfully” with his family for years.
“He sang in the choir,” Terry Shannon said. “He had a beautiful voice.”