Acquitted of Manslaughter, Tulsa Police Officer Resigns

July 20, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) — Tulsa police Wednesday accepted the resignation of the white police officer acquitted of killing unarmed black motorist Terence Crutcher last year.

Betty Shelby, 43, submitted her resignation letter on July 14. Police officials accepted the letter with “satisfactory separation,” the Tulsa World newspaper reported. Her last day at work will be Aug. 3.

Shelby was acquitted in May of first-degree manslaughter. She was recorded on dashboard and helicopter video shooting and killing Crutcher, 40, in September as he walked away from her with both arms in the air toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Shelby said Crutcher did not comply with her commands and she said she feared he was reaching for a weapon through the left-front window. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.

Shelby also said she thought Crutcher was on drugs. A medical examiner determined that he had PCP, or angel dust, in his system when he died.

Shelby repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death, testifying that she had “no regrets” about what happened, and that she relied on her training.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Shelby said she is “sorry he lost his life” and that the shooting was a “tragedy for everyone involved.”

“I pray for healing for his family,” she said in the July 14 post. “I will continue to pray for the unity of our community, the safety of our citizens and our police officers.”

Shelby was reinstated after acquittal, restricted to desk duty.

“Since being reinstated, I have found that sitting behind a desk, isolated from all of my fellow officers and the citizens of Tulsa, is just not for me,” the post stated.

Crutcher’s estate has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Shelby, claiming he was subjected to excessive force and deprived of his right to equal protection. The family says the police department’s training and customs “are known to be deliberately indifferent” to residents’ constitutional rights.

“Terence had not committed and was not suspected of committing any serious crime; he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death to Officer Shelby, any other officers on the scene (who were there in sufficient numbers to control the situation), or the general public,” the June 15 complaint stated. “Terence was never told he was under arrest or warned he would be shot by Officer Shelby.”

Although they acquitted Shelby, jurors said later that they believe she is not “blameless” in Crutcher’s death and that she had “other options available to subdue” him.

From Courthouse News.

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Slain Man’s Estate Sues Acquitted Tulsa Cop

June 15, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The estate of unarmed black motorist Terence Crutcher sued white Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby and the city Thursday, claiming he was unnecessarily shot and killed without probable cause during a traffic stop last year.

Estate administrator Austin Bond sued in federal court, alleging Crutcher’s civil rights were violated when he was subjected to excessive force and deprived of his equal protection rights. Shelby, 43, was acquitted last month of first-degree manslaughter.

She is shown on dashboard and helicopter video shooting and killing Crutcher, 40, in September after he had both arms in the air and approached his disabled SUV in the middle of a roadway.

Shelby insisted he did not comply with her commands and feared that he was reaching for a weapon inside the left-front window. She said she believed he was on drugs and a medical examiner later determined he had phencyclidine – PCP or “angel dust” – in his system when he died.

Jurors publicly stated that although they acquitted Shelby, they believe she is not “blameless” in Crutcher’s death and that she had “other options available to subdue” him.

Shelby – who has since been reinstated to the Tulsa police force – has repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened, that she relied on her training.

According to the Thursday’s lawsuit, “For years, the city’s training of TPD officers and its customs, patterns and practices of TPD are known to be deliberately indifferent to ensuring that the constitutional rights of city residents are properly respected and protected.”

Bond acknowledges that police risk their lives every day to uphold the law and that deadly force is sometimes necessary.

“However, the realities of police work in Tulsa, Oklahoma did not constitute cause for Officer Shelby to become Terence’s ‘judge, jury, and executioner,’” the 15-page complaint states. “The dangers police officers generally face also do not provide a license to police officers to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ without properly evaluating the need for such force.”

Bond says Crutcher was “clearly outmanned and virtually surrounded” and was in the process of “peacefully submitting” when he was killed.

“Terence had not committed and was not suspected of committing any serious crime; he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death to Officer Shelby, any other officers on the scene (who were there in sufficient numbers to control the situation), or the general public,” the complaint states. “Terence was never told he was under arrest or warned he would be shot by Officer Shelby.” (Parentheses in original.)

The lawsuit further blames Tulsa for failing to teach officers how to “properly de-escalate encounters” and emphasize deadly force as a last option.

Crutcher’s family has yet to file a civil lawsuit regarding his death. Bond serves as a court-appointed estate administrator, as Frenchel Johnson – the mother of three of Crutcher’s children – and Crutcher’s relatives fight over who controls his estate.

Bond seeks an injunction ordering an independent investigation into the shooting by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.

He also seeks actual damages for violations of Crutcher’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and is represented by M. David Riggs with Riggs Abney in Tulsa.

From Courthouse News.

Jury That Cleared Killer Cop Says She Was Not ‘Blameless’

May 22,  2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The jury that acquitted white Tulsa police Officer Betty Shelby for killing an unarmed black motorist questioned Friday whether she had “other options available to subdue” the man before he reached into his car, implying that she is not “blameless” in his death.

The unidentified jury foreperson submitted a letter entered into the court record “in an effort to placate” members of the media who wish to interview jurors. The foreperson asked for privacy, saying each juror was “adamant about staying as anonymous as possible” after the two week-long trial.

The jury deliberated for nine hours Wednesday before reaching a verdict.

Shelby, 43, faced up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September after he refused to follow her commands and walked toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before she shot him.

Shelby said she shot him out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside his car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car. The defense said the left-front window was open, while the Crutcher family said the helicopter video showed the window was closed.

The foreperson wrote that it was clear to the jury “after intensely studying the video, still photos and testimony” that the window was open.

“(T)he jury believes from said evidence that Terence Crutcher did in fact reach into the window disobeying the instructions of the police officers on location,” the 3-page letter to Tulsa County Judge Doug Drummond states. “The jury concluded that any officer put in that situation at that exact moment and regardless of the skin color, gender or size of the suspect, would have performed the same way, which is in accordance with their law enforcement training.”

The foreperson said the killing was “unfortunate and tragic, but justifiable” due to Crutcher’s actions.

However, the letter added, some jurors believe Shelby had other options to subdue him before he reached into the car.

“What is unclear based on the testimony and the evidence presented in that courtroom, was whether her judgment at that time was in accordance to her training as a police officer in the line of duty or whether her training allowed her to holster her service and draw her Taser instead,” the letter states. “There was no evidence presented that she was acting outside of her training, or even if her training allowed her flexibility of a decision at that point.”

The foreperson said the jury believes Crutcher’s life could have been saved had he been shot with a Taser before he reached into the window, and that that option was available to Shelby. But they could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that she did “anything outside of her duties and training” in that situation.

“This was critical to the verdict rendered,” the letter states. “Because of this perceived option that she may have had, many on the jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death, but due to the lack of direct or even circumstantial evidence that she was acting outside of her training in the thirty feet prior to Mr. Crutcher reaching the window of that SUV, the jury was forced by the rule of law to render a not guilty verdict.”

Shelby blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened. Her attorneys called two police officers to testify about their previous run-ins with Crutcher.

One testified that force was used on Crutcher for not complying with orders in 1995. The other testified that a stun gun was used on Crutcher twice in a 2012 arrest.

Crutcher’s family opposed allowing that testimony, telling reporters that their relative was being put on trial instead of Shelby.

The foreperson said Crutcher’s arrest history and multiple outstanding arrest warrants did not play a role in their deliberations, and that his “guilt in previous incidents were not considered as a means to justify” Shelby’s actions.

From Courthouse News.

Former Tulsa Cop Cleared on Manslaughter Charge

May 18, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – A jury acquitted white, former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby late Wednesday evening of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist last year.

Jurors deliberated for nine hours after closing arguments. At least five jurors started crying after the verdict was read, the Tulsa World reported.

Defense attorney Shannon McMurray, of Tulsa, hugged Shelby after the acquittal. They left the courthouse without commenting.

Shelby, 43, faced up to life in state prison if convicted. She shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September after he refused to follow her commands and walked towards his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before he was shot. Shelby has insisted she did so out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside his car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car. The defense has maintained the left-front window was open, while the Crutcher family has cited the helicopter video as showing the window was closed.

Shelby blamed Crutcher for causing his own death during the eight day trial, testifying she has “no regrets” about what happened. Her attorneys called other police officers who had previous run-ins with Crutcher where he was allegedly “noncompliant” and “defiant,” resulting in a stun gun being used on one occasion.

McMurray elicited groans from the gallery last week when she asked an investigator if a screwdriver found on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he is “moving forward” after the verdict.

“Tomorrow, I am going to get up and continue to prosecute cases just like I did before,” he told reporters. “Police officers are going to continue to try and protect our community.”

The defense accused Kunzweiler of hurriedly charging Shelby after the shooting and bowing to public and political pressure.

Crutcher’s father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, told reporters he accepts the verdict but that he believes “Betty Shelby got away with murder.”

“I don’t know what was in the mind of that jury, how they could come to that conclusion,” he said. “There was precise evidence that said she was guilty. I’m going on record to say they did their job, but I’m wondering what they were thinking about.”

Crutcher’s sister, Tiffany Crutcher, told reporters the verdict was a “tough pill” to swallow.

“The facts were there, all the elements of manslaughter were there,” she said. “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.”

She angrily accused Tulsa police of participating in a cover-up to protect Shelby.

“They walked by my brother to go check on Betty and the last few breaths of my brother’s life, he laid there alone,” she said. “Nobody held his hand, nobody said ‘hey, are you okay?’ He had to lay there alone. These are officers who are paid to serve and protect us.”

Crutcher’s family and supporters complained after the defense rested that their relative and his past transgressions were being put on trial, not Shelby.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called for calm after the acquittal.

“Those who disagree with the verdict have the right to express their opinions,” she said in a statement. “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.”

From Courthouse News.

Ex-Tulsa Cop’s Manslaughter Case Goes to Jury

May 17, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Jurors began deliberating the fate of white, former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby on Wednesday after closing arguments on the eighth day of her racially charged manslaughter trial.

Shelby, 43, faces up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She shot and killed an unarmed black motorist, Terence Crutcher, 40, in September last year as he refused to follow her commands and walked towards his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before he was shot. Shelby has insisted she did so out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside the car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.

Shelby has repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified Monday she has “no regrets” about what happened.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler asked jurors Wednesday to consider why responding police officers told Shelby to “not to say a word” and to holster her weapon when they arrived at the scene.

Kunzweiler argued they did so because the officers immediately knew it was a bad shooting, CBS affiliate KOTV reported. He said that he should be held accountable if the prosecution failed to prove Shelby fired in the heat of passion.

Shelby’s attorney, Shannon McMurray of Tulsa, said Shelby’s decision to shoot was not a guess, that it was complete reliance on her training. She implied sexism played a role in prosecutors portraying Shelby as emotional and out of control when she was upset with flunking a quiz for her certification as a drug-recognition expert.

“If a man had raised his voice, would he have had a meltdown?” McMurray asked. “I am offended.”

In a testy exchange while testifying in her own defense Monday, prosecutors asked Shelby why she did not share her suspicions that Crutcher was on PCP, or angel dust, with investigators when she gave her statement. She had said she could smell the drug on Crutcher before shooting him. Police found a vial of PCP in Crutcher’s car.McMurray also questioned the prosecution playing a video of an emotional Shelby providing her statement to police after the shooting, saying all it proves is how much she cares.

Hours after the defense rested its case on Tuesday, the Crutcher family and supporters blasted Shelby’s lawyers for going after their relative.

Family friend Nehemiah Frank said the attorneys “are demonizing this innocent man who has died.”

Shelby’s attorneys called police officers to testify who described past run-ins with an allegedly noncompliant Crutcher.

Dr. Rodney Goss with Morning Star Baptist Church disagreed with how the victim has been made to be the villain.

“It appears to me that opposed to Betty Shelby being on trial, it seems that Terence Crutcher is on trial by bringing up every flaw, every fault,” he said. “Everything that may have happened in his past that may have a negative connotation has been magnified in this trial and everyone seems to be talking about everything except for the fact that he was murdered.”

Frank also criticized the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police, which filed an ethics complaint with the Oklahoma Bar Association against Kunzweiler for allegedly charging Shelby too quickly due to public and political pressure.McMurray later told reporters she is “not going to dignify” the Crutcher family’s statements with a comment.

He criticized postings the group made on social medial about dealing with someone high on PCP and the quick decisions police must make before killing someone.

“They should not be taking sides,” Frank said. “It seems like the FOP has taken Betty’s side. They are such a big institution and they should not be in the middle of this, they should not be trying to sway public opinion.”

Jared Lindsey, the police union’s board of directors chairman, denied trying to “inflame the situation” and said the FOP is trying to educate the public on police protocol.

“Very soon, we will have a verdict in this case and the hope for everyone is we will find peace with whatever decision is made,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

From Courthouse News.

Tulsa Cop Has ‘No Regrets’ About Fatal Traffic-Stop Shooting

May 15, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby testified in her own defense Monday, telling jurors in her manslaughter trial that the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist was his own fault and she has “no regrets” about what happened.

Shelby, 43, faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September last year after he walked towards his disabled SUV in the middle of the street.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before he was shot. Shelby has insisted that she did so out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside the car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.

On the sixth day of trial, Shelby testified that videos she saw in training indicated that if suspects are allowed to reach into their cars, “they can pull out guns and kill you,” the Tulsa World reported.

“If you hesitate and delay, then you die,” Shelby reportedly told her attorney, Shannon McMurray, of Tulsa. “It impacted me so much that I saw the video in my head during that situation.”

Dressed in a blue shirt and blue blazer, Shelby said she was trained to not “let them pull their arm back out” and that deadly force can be warranted. She said she fired “because I feared for my life.”

“I did everything I could to stop this,” Shelby said. “Crutcher’s death is his fault.”

Shelby testified that she had unholstered her gun “dozens” of times as a police officer and that the suspect always complied. She denied ever firing her weapon before Crutcher’s death.

Shelby said her law enforcement career began in 2007 with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. She joined the Tulsa Police Department in 2011. She described how she became certified as a drug recognition expert in order to be “better at my job.”

Shelby testified that she suspected Crutcher was on PCP, that she could smell it. A medical examiner concluded Crutcher had PCP, also known as angel dust, in his system at the time of his death.

Shelby’s testimony largely mirrored comments she made last month on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in which she denied being a racist and said she never wanted to be in the position to shoot Crutcher. The judge scolded the defense at the time for not heeding his request to not make extrajudicial statements and endanger the jury selection process.

On cross-examination, prosecutors asked Shelby why she did not mention her PCP suspicion when she gave her statement to police.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray expressed doubt over Shelby’s claim that she was unaware a vial of PCP was found in Crutcher’s car until weeks later. He said it was common knowledge among police investigators who worked the crime scene, and that the vial’s existence was made public by his office within days of the shooting.

Shelby testified that she forgot and did not watch the news after the shooting.

Gray disputed Shelby’s claim that she did not have time to unholster her stun gun, saying she had time to pull her actual gun.

Jurors also heard testimony Monday about two previous run-ins Crutcher had with law enforcement. Oklahoma State University Police Officer Jack Robison described a 2012 arrest he made in Tulsa for public intoxication and obstruction. He said Crutcher was “noncompliant” and “defiant,” resulting in a stun gun being used twice.

Prosecutors pointed out on cross-examination how lethal force was not used in that arrest because an unarmed officer and an officer with a rifle were also there.

Tulsa Police Lt. Michael Zenoni testified about an arrest in 1995 where forced was used on Crutcher due to noncompliance with orders.

Shelby’s attorneys have accused prosecutors of hurriedly bringing charges against her out of fear of public backlash due to Shelby being white and Crutcher being black. Defense attorney McMurray elicited groans from the gallery last week when she asked an investigator if a screwdriver found on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.

Several members of the gallery wore purple and green ribbons Monday in support of the Crutcher family. Others wore blue rubber wristbands with the letters ISWB – “I Stand With Betty.”

The defense is expected to call its final witness this week. One juror was dismissed Monday due to illness and an alternate juror was selected as a replacement.

From Courthouse News.

Tense Moments in Police Officer’s Manslaughter Trial

May 12, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Groans filled the courtroom Thursday during the fourth day of trial for a white former Tulsa police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man, when her attorney implied that a screwdriver in the man’s SUV could be considered a weapon.

Betty Shelby, 43, faces up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September last year after he failed to comply with her instructions as he walked toward her police cruiser in the middle of a street, then back to his disabled car.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby with both arms in the air before she shot him to death.

Shelby insists she fired her drawn weapon out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside the car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.

Shelby also said he appeared to be on PCP, or angel dust. A medical examiner confirmed that the drug was in his system when he died.

Defense attorney Shannon McMurray, of Tulsa, asked police Cpl. Terrence Joe Campbell on cross-examination if a screwdriver he photographed on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.

Campbell agreed, prompting spectators in the gallery near Crutcher’s family to moan and shake their heads, the Tulsa World reported.

The Rev. Mareo Johnson, a member of Black Lives Matter, told the newspaper the defense line of questioning was desperate and that McMurray was “grasping” and “trying to save face.”

Several other photographs that Campbell took of Crutcher’s car after the shooting were shown to jurors, including some that showed the left-front window open. Shelby has said the window was open when Crutcher reached into the car.

Crutcher’s family disagrees. Several days after the shooting, they displayed photographs from the helicopter video showing the window was closed.

Campbell told prosecutors during direct examination that no weapons were found in Crutcher’s car, only school books.

Two of Crutcher’s instructors at Tulsa Community College also testified for the prosecution, saying he did not appear to be intoxicated in the hour before his death.

Sharolyn Wallace and Michelle Ogan testified the Crutcher was a kind man who was concerned that night that a music appreciation class for which he registered had been canceled for the semester.

During opening statements Wednesday, Shelby’s attorneys accused Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler of prematurely charging the officer due to public pressure resulting from Shelby’s being white and Crutcher black. The defense attorneys say Kunzweiler filed the case before a police investigation concluded and had his own investigator step in though a police investigator had been assigned the case.

From Courthouse News.