A white Oklahoma police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man last year was found not guilty Wednesday of first-degree manslaughter.
Jurors deliberated for just over nine hours before finding Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty in the Sept. 16 shooting of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher. Shelby said she fired her weapon out of fear because she said he didn’t obey her commands to lie on the ground and appeared to reach inside his SUV for what she thought was a gun. Crutcher was unarmed.
Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted. They noted Crutcher had his hands in their air and wasn’t combative — part of which was confirmed by police video taken from a dashboard camera and helicopter that showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby, hands held above his head.
Shelby’s attorneys argued that in the two minutes before cameras began recording the encounter, Shelby repeatedly ordered Crutcher to stop walking away from her and get on the ground.
Shelby also said she feared Crutcher was under the influence of PCP, a powerful hallucinogenic known as Angel Dust that makes users erratic, unpredictable and combative.
An autopsy showed PCP was in Crutcher’s system, and police said they found a vial of it in his SUV.
Crutcher’s family said police attempted to “demonize” Crutcher over the drug possession to deflect attention from the fact officers didn’t find a gun inside his SUV.
The killing of 40-year-old Crutcher was among a spate of officer-involved shootings in recent years that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted calls for more police accountability.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler charged Shelby six days after the shooting. An affidavit accused her of “becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.”
Defense attorney Shannon McMurray argued that prosecutors rushed to charge Shelby for political reasons, fearing civil unrest like the angry street protests that erupted in Charlotte, North Carolina, after the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott four days after Crutcher was killed.
Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum issued a statement on the verdict:
“After considering days of testimony and undergoing its own deliberation, the jury has spoken. I appreciated the jurors’ service to our community and respect their verdict. But this verdict does not alter the course on which we are adamantly set. It does not change our recognition of the racial disparities that have afflicted Tulsa historically. It does not change our work to institute community policing measures that empower citizens to work side by side with police officer in making our community safer. And no one has been calling for the resources to implement community policing more actively over a longer period of time than the men and women of our Tulsa Police Department. So we are moving forward together – Tulsans from all parts of the city, police officers and everyday citizens – with a unified…