TULSA, Okla. – The jury has begun deliberating in the trial of a Tulsa police officer who last year shot and killed an unarmed black motorist whose car had broken down.
Officer Betty Shelby was charged last September with felony manslaughter in the shooting of Terence Crutcher, 40.
The incident, captured from several angles on video, was one of a number of police shootings of unarmed black men across the United States in recent years that have heightened concerns about police misconduct.
Shelby, who testified in her own defense, said she shot Crutcher because he acted bizarrely, failed to obey commands and reached into his vehicle’s window to get what she thought could have been a gun.
But prosecutors said in arrest filings that Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation” into a fatal encounter. Crutcher was found to be unarmed after the shooting.
Deliberations began just after noon on Wednesday. If convicted, she could face between four years to life in prison.
Timeline of shooting
Shelby was arrested shortly after officials released videos of the shooting, which showed Crutcher walking on the road with his arms in the air before being shot.
The incident began when Crutcher’s SUV was found abandoned in the middle of the street. A witness called 911 and said a man was running away from the vehicle, warning that it was going to blow up.
Shelby testified that she arrived on the scene and approached the abandoned vehicle and cleared it, not seeing anyone inside.
As she turned back to her patrol car, she saw Crutcher walking toward her, she testified. He alternated between putting his hands in his pockets and putting them in the air, according to Shelby.
Crutcher did not comply with her commands to “show me your hands,” she testified. She also said he was sweating heavily and smelled of PCP chemicals.
Crutcher ignored orders from Shelby and another officer on the scene, Tyler Turnbough, according to Shelby’s testimony. She testified that Crutcher put his hands on the SUV and moved to reach into the vehicle.
Her police training, she testified on Tuesday, taught her that “if a suspect reaches their hands inside of a car, don’t let them pull them out.”
“We’re not trained to see what comes out of a car,” Shelby testified. “We’re trained to stop a threat, and by all indications, he was a threat.”
At that point, Shelby fired her weapon and Turnbough fired his Taser, she testified.
Prosecutors asked Shelby on cross-examination why she, too, didn’t use a Taser rather than a gun. Prosecutors also asked her where blame lay in the fatal encounter.
“Is Terence Crutcher’s death his fault?” Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray asked.
“Yes,” Shelby replied.
Crutcher on trial?
Family members and local pastors condemned the defense’s arguments that they say made Crutcher into the villain.
For example, an autopsy found PCP in Crutcher’s system at the time of his shooting, according to the toxicology report released by the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. The defense also brought up law enforcement experts who had encounters with Crutcher dating back to 1995.
On cross-examination, Shelby said she did not initially mention in her interrogation interview that Crutcher smelled like PCP chemicals. She said she had forgotten that detail at the time.
Dr. Rodney Goss with Morning Star Baptist Church told CNN that defense attorneys were using irrelevant details to make Crutcher seem at fault.
“In spite of anything that Terence may have done in his past that may have a negative turn to it, it does not justify murder,” he said. “It doesn’t matter; she didn’t have a toxicology report when she murdered him. She didn’t know about anything in his past when she murdered him.”
Marcus Howard, a family member and pastor of MyChurch Walk of Faith in Tulsa, also condemned those defense tactics.
“As a family member, we are very disturbed because it seems as though our family member has been put on trial,” he said.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Shannon McMurray called on jurors to acquit Shelby, saying police have to make split-second decisions in tense situations.
“Do you obviously believe Officer Shelby is a trigger-happy woman when she has never fired her gun before in over 11 years?” McMurray said.