Female Officer Formally Charged In Crutcher Shooting Death
Betty Shelby, the Oklahoma police officer implicated in the death of Terence Crutcher was formally booked this morning on charges of first degree manslaughter. The 42 year old turned herself in during the early hours and was released at 1:31am on a $50,000 bond.
Tulsa prosecutors believe that Shelby was unjustified in the fatal shooting of the 40 year old African-American, who was found not to be in possession of a weapon, and that she "reacted unreasonably" at his alleged attempt to reach in to his vehicle.
The event took place on the evening of September 16, when police received a 911 call about a man abandoning his SUV and acting bizarrely on 36th Street North in Tulsa. After the authorities arrived helicopter footage shows Crutcher walking towards his vehicle, and police say he began reaching in to the driver side window. At this point officer Tyler Turnbough used his taser and Shelby delivered the fatal shots with her duty firearm, allegedly in fear that he was possibly reaching for a gun. No gun was found.
At the time police suspected the father of four was under the influence of the illegal dissociative drug PCP, something his father admitted he had an issue with. Homicide Sergeant Dave Walker says PCP was indeed recovered from the car, but toxicology has yet to confirm whether Crutcher was under its effects at the time.
The incident has once again reignited the debate about whether African-Americans are being disproportionately and unlawfully killed by police due to systemic racism and fear. The Black Lives Matter movement immediately took to the streets to protest and the American Civil Liberties Union publicly called for Shelby to be charged.
Was Crutcher A Threat?
At the heart of the incident is determining whether Crutcher was actually a threat to the team of armed officers and whether his movements put their lives in danger. It's clear that he wasn't following orders, but if he was on PCP as they suspected, they would know that he wasn't going to be responding rationally.
Could Crutcher have been a threat? Absolutely. But was he at that given moment and did that justify his death?
Police originally claimed that seconds before Shelby opened fire he began reaching through the driver side window. Shelby says she "was in fear for her life and thought Mr Crutcher was going to kill her". It's easy to accept this account when one fails to closely analyze the aerial footage. But on closer inspection his movements are inconclusive.
However with the release of high resolution imagery of the moments that followed, there is now proof that Shelby's account is inaccurate. The window was not open. "How can he be reaching into the car if the window is up and there is blood on the glass?" asked Crutcher family lawyer Benjamin Grump, at a press conference on Wednesday. The grizzly frame also shows Terrence bleeding out beside the vehicle, where he lay for 2.5 minutes before police came to his aid.
It's expected that the reaching claim will be heavily focused on during Shelby's trial just as it has been on the internet. Of course it's entirely possible that officers genuinely believed the window could have been open (and were just incorrect) or that he was going to open the car door itself anyway. Whether any of that justifies gun shots is for the jury to decide. If one officer determined a taser was the best option, then we have to question Shelby's judgement. She fired after the taser had been used, suggesting a trigger happy response. Was it nerves, fear, cold blooded murder? Okalahoma law calls it manslaughter in the "heat of passion."
Shelby faces a minimum of four years in prison if convicted. Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said: "We are happy that charges were brought, but let me clear - the family wants and deserves full justice."
In another statement, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says she wishes the charges provide "some peace" to the Crutcher family and that citizens should remain patient for the case to reach its conclusion.