A female Oklahoma cop who fatally shot an unarmed black man—whose hands were up during a traffic stop—was acquitted of manslaughter on Wednesday.
Tulsa Police Officer Betty Jo Shelby, 43, was accused of using excessive, deadly force last September after encountering 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, whose SUV had stalled and was partially blocking traffic.
A jury of three men and nine women deliberated for nine hours Wednesday before delivering its verdict. Shelby, who was on unpaid leave, was found to be not guilty of first-degree manslaughter. If convicted, she would have faced four years to life behind bars.
The shocking incident, which was captured on police-helicopter footage, shows Shelby firing into Crutcher while his arms were in the air. Shelby, who is white, said she feared for her life as Crutcher reached into his open car window.
No weapons were found on Crutcher or in his vehicle, police said.
Shelby’s defense contended that Crutcher, a father of four, was high on PCP when the cop stopped him on her way to a domestic-violence call. An autopsy report indicated that he had acute PCP intoxication at his time of death.
It’s not the first time Tulsa has made national news over the shooting of an unarmed black suspect.
Last year, a jury found volunteer Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Bates guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Eric Harris. Bates said he fired on Harris after he mistook his gun for a Taser during a sting operation.
In Crutcher’s case, Tulsa cops were responding to calls about an abandoned SUV on 36th Street North around 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 16.
“There was a guy running from it,” one 911 caller told dispatchers of the stranded vehicle, before adding, “I think he’s smoking something.” Crutcher, according to the caller, said he was worried his vehicle might blow up.
Soon after, Betty Jo Shelby arrived on scene, and a police chopper hovered above. Her husband, fellow cop Dave Shelby, was inside the helicopter.
In the helicopter’s video footage, an officer can be heard saying, “Time for a Taser, I think” and “That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.”
After the verdict, Crutcher’s sister accused the Tulsa Police Department of a coverup of her brother's death.
‘Terence’s hands were up. Terence was not an imminent threat. Terence did not attack her. Terence did not charge at her,” Tiffany Crutcher told reporters inside the courthouse.
“Terence was not the aggressor. Betty Shelby was the aggressor,” Tiffany Crutcher said, adding that Shelby “had the gun” and “murdered my brother.”
The sibling accused Tulsa police of trying to cover for their fellow officer—a coverup she says was exposed by prosecutors at trial.
She described how cops allegedly walked past her dying brother to check on Shelby.
“The last few breaths of my brother’s life, he laid there alone. Nobody held his hand. Nobody said, ‘Terence, are you OK?’
“He had to lay there alone,” Tiffany Crutcher said.
She vowed to help crack down on what she called Tulsa’s culture of a “corrupt police department.”
On Monday, Shelby testified that she shot Crutcher once, believing he was reaching for a gun when he put his left hand through the SUV window. A fellow officer, Tyler Turnbough, fired on Crutcher with a Taser around the same time.
Shelby said police training videos showed her that if suspects can reach into their vehicles, “they can pull out guns and kill you,” and that deadly force therefore is justified, the Tulsa World reported.
“I’m told in my training that you don’t let them pull their arm back out,” Shelby testified. “If you hesitate and delay, then you die.”
If Crutcher would have listened to Shelby’s commands, he would still be alive, Shelby told jurors, the Frontier reported.
When Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Gray asked Shelby, “Is Terence Crutcher’s death his fault?” the former cop replied, “Yes.” Shelby testified she was “amazed” the incident happened, “because I had done what I could to keep this from happening.”
Shelby said that when she first confronted Crutcher, he was standing with his arms at his sides and chin tucked into his chest, the Frontier reported. Crutcher didn’t answer her questions but kept putting his hands in his pockets, she said.
Still, Gray questioned Shelby’s account of the fatal shooting.
The assistant district attorney asked Shelby why she told 60 Minutes—in a special that aired a month before trial—that she smelled PCP on Crutcher.
“A good chunk of [your Sept. 19 police] interview focused on whether Terence Crutcher was under the influence of something,” Gray said, according to the Tulsa World. “But nowhere… do you ever mention a chemical smell.”
Shelby’s statements were also in contrast to those of backing officer Turnbough, Gray said.
Turnbough testified that when he arrived on scene, he said he had a Taser ready and that Shelby acknowledged his announcement. But Shelby said, “I did not hear Officer Turnbough or make a response.”
Meanwhile, an expert witness for the defense testified on Shelby’s demeanor during her police interview, suggesting she could have become emotional because she saw video of the shooting before giving her statement, the World reported.
That expert, forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie, said it was good practice to show Shelby the video prior to her interview with Tulsa Police Sgt. David Walker, to help jog her memory. Mohandie testified, however, that he wouldn’t do this for a private citizen accused of the same crime, the Frontier reported.
Prosecutors said Shelby got special treatment after the incident because she’s a police officer—and didn’t even have an interview with cops until three days after the shooting, according to the Frontier.
On Tuesday, Shelby’s attorneys unsuccessfully requested a mistrial, saying the district attorney improperly suggested Shelby was guilty because she didn’t give her official statement until days after the shooting.
The defense also blasted prosecutors for rushing to charge Shelby only six days after the shooting.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Shannon McMurray hinted that the prosecution was sexist in its pursuit of Shelby. She pointed to an affidavit by a DA’s office investigator who questioned Shelby’s emotional state.
“I’m offended and you should be too,” McMurray said, according to the Frontier.
But Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said that police knew the Crutcher incident was “a bad shoot.”
Officers allegedly told Shelby not to speak immediately after the shooting. One cop had testified that it was “not in the best interest of the police and the Police Department” for Shelby to talk following the incident, the Frontier reported.
“When an officer is telling another officer not to talk, it’s because they knew it was a bad [shooting] immediately,” Kunzweiler said.