Tulsa Police Officer Charged in Death of #TerenceCrutcher
22 Sep, 2016
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office filed a first-degree manslaughter charge on Thursday against Officer Betty Shelby in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher last week.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said during a brief press conference that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Shelby, 42, who is expected to turn herself in to authorities.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said Monday that Crutcher, a 40-year-old father of four, was unarmed when Shelby shot him once in the upper right lung area next to his stopped SUV near 36th Street North and Lewis Avenue at 7:44 p.m. Sept. 16. He was pronounced dead at a hospital less than an hour later.
“The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Crutcher are on the hearts and minds of many people in this community,” Kunzweiler said at the press conference Thursday. “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 actions to do just that.”
The charges against Shelby are the second Kunzweiler has filed in less than two years against an officer who killed someone while on duty. His office filed a second-degree manslaughter charge against former Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates in the April 2, 2015, shooting of Eric Harris during an undercover operation in north Tulsa.
Bates resigned from his post and was convicted in April of this year, receiving a four-year prison sentence.
Shelby faces one count of manslaughter committed in the heat of passion, or in the alternative while resisting a person’s attempt to commit a crime. First-degree manslaughter carries a sentence of four years to life in Department of Corrections custody, according to Oklahoma law.
If convicted, Shelby would have to serve 85 percent of her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
A probable cause affidavit in the case alleges that Shelby “acted 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 held up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.”
The affidavit states she told Sgt. Dave Walker in a police interview that she was in fear for her life and thought Crutcher would kill her. Shelby reportedly told investigators she was yelling repeatedly for Crutcher to stop walking to his vehicle and get on his knees.
However, dash cam and police helicopter footage shows Crutcher walking to the SUV, which was stopped in the middle of 36th Street North, with his hands up while Shelby had a gun pointed at him. The videos show that at least three officers had either a gun or Taser drawn as Crutcher walked back to the SUV.
Shelby turned on her police car’s rear flashing lights only when stopping to approach Crutcher, which meant her dash camera did not turn on, Sgt. Shane Tuell told reporters Monday.
Attorney Scott Wood, who has represented Shelby so far, said there are about two unrecorded minutes of interaction between Shelby and Crutcher.
Officer Tyler Turnbough reportedly told Shelby he had his Taser ready before deploying it about the same time Shelby fired her gun.
Shelby said in her interview that she saw Crutcher reach into the driver’s side front window before she shot him. Lead investigator Doug Campbell wrote in the affidavit that the videos show that Crutcher’s right hand is up and that his left hand is “unobservable” at the time he was shot.
“Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating (any) weapon was present,” Campbell wrote.
Attorneys for the Crutcher family held a press conference Tuesday outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, where they showed a photo they say proved that the window was actually rolled up and that Crutcher couldn’t have reached into the SUV. They pointed to a dark streak in the photo that they believe is Crutcher’s blood smeared on the window.
Attorney Scott Wood told the Tulsa World earlier this week that Shelby’s drug recognition expert training led her to believe that Crutcher was under the influence of PCP. Walker told the World on Tuesday that investigators found a vial of PCP in the SUV, but he did not say whether there was evidence that Crutcher had used it the evening he died or where in the vehicle it was found.
Family attorney Benjamin Crump, in apparent response to the information about PCP, said Tuesday that any reports of drug use shouldn’t be seen as a reason to shoot Crutcher. He called the claim a “red herring” that distracts from the assertion that Crutcher was wrongly killed, and he pointed out that a toxicology report has not yet been completed.
In a press conference held after Kunzweiler’s, attorneys for the Crutcher family were asked if Crutcher’s death was due to any fault of his own because the affidavit claimed he did not comply with Betty Shelby’s demands.
“The police encounter people every day who fail to comply with instruction, whether it’s a DUI or a public intoxication or any situation,” attorney Melvin Hall said. “The law does not authorize the use of lethal force merely because someone fails to comply.”