Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby Charged With Manslaughter

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Betty Shelby’s mugshot. (Tulsa County Jail)

Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby is being charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, the county prosecutor announced Thursday.

Tulsa County District Atorney Steve Kunzweiler said a warrant has been issued for Shelby’s arrest and said arrangements were being made with Shelby’s attorney for her to turn herself in, KOKI-TV reports.

Kunzweiler called the shooting “tragic” in a statement:

The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Crutcher are on the hearts and minds of many people in this community. It is important to note that despite the heightened tensions felt by all — which seemingly beg for an emotional reaction — our community has consistently demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process. It is the shared responsibility of all who have the ability to control their reactions to do just that. To the ministers of this community — all of your flock, regardless of their color, creed, ethnicity, background, social status, employment or neighborhood need the wisdom of your guiding hands. To the media — your community needs you now more than ever to be the objective messengers of the facts which report the truth. To the lawyers — it is our responsibility to demonstrate to our community the importance of adherence to the rule of law and the ethical standards which allow our courtrooms to be the source of justice. Officer Shelby, although now charged, is presumed to be innocent under the law until a judge or jury determines otherwise.

I do not know why things happen in this world as they do. We need to pray for wisdom and guidance on each of our respective paths. Each of us at the end of our days will have to account for our own actions. The only way I know how to walk my path is to pray every day to pray, and to serve my fellow citizen so that he or she may be lifted up.

Shelby, 42, was booked into the Tulsa County Jail at 1:11 a.m. Friday and released at 1:23 a.m. after posting $50,000 bond.

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Crutcher was fatally shot next to his SUV, which had been abandoned in the middle of the road, on September 16 in the Oklahoma city. Videos of the shooting, recorded on police dashboard cameras and from a police helicopter, were released on Monday, three days after the shooting.

The videos, which you can watch here, show Crutcher, 40, walking with his hands in the car as Shelby and two other officers follow him. He then stops near his SUV, where one officer deploys his Taser and Shelby opens fire with her gun, hitting Crutcher once.

He then falls to the ground, and officers do not immediately provide aid to him. He later died at a hospital.

In the affidavit filed in the case, investigators said Shelby told them she “feared for her life,” and thought Crutcher “was going to kill her.”

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.”

You can read the affidavit filed by prosecutors below:

Shelby had found Crutcher’s car in the road while she was responding to another call. She stopped and had about a two minute interaction with him before the video began, according to her attorney.

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Terence Crutcher with his father. (Facebook)

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.”

Video footage appears to show that the window was closed.

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.

Tulsa Police told KOKI-TV that a vial of PCP was found in Crutcher’s SUV after the shooting. Autopsy and toxicology results have not yet been released.

Attorneys for Crutcher’s family have said the PCP is not a justification for the shooting. They also argue that Crutcher could not have been reaching into his SUV, because the window was closed.

Wood said Shelby fired her gun at the same time as the other officer deployed his Taser, because they both perceived a threat.

Video footage appears to show that the window was not open.

First-degree manslaughter is a felony with a minimum penalty of four years in prison, according to Oklahoma state law. The maximum penalty is life.

It is also an 85 percent crime, which means a person must serve 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

A fatal police shooting last year led to second-degree manslaughter charges against a volunteer Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Robert Bates. He was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, the maximum for that crime.

Bates, 73, accidentally shot Eric Harris to death with his handgun, thinking he was deploying his Taser.

The U.S Justice Department has also launched a parallel civil rights investigation.