Less than a week after Tulsa Police Department officer Betty Shelby shot and killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher while he stood beside his stalled vehicle with this hands up, she has been indicted.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced yesterday (September 22) that Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, a felony charge that can carry a sentence of at least four years in prison. Per Oklahoma’s statute, a homicide can carry this charge in the following three cases:
1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.
2. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.
3. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.
Dashcam and police helicopter video footage released earlier this week showed that on September 16, Officer Shelby shot the unarmed Black man while he had his hands up. While Shelby, who is White, maintains that she thought Crutcher had a gun, there was no weapon found on him or in the car. She maintains that Crutcher “acted erratically, refused to comply with several orders, tried to put his hand in his pocket and reached inside his car window.” It was later revealed that the window was up during the shooting.
A warrant was issued for Shelby’s arrest yesterday and Tulsa World reports that she was taken into custody by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department overnight and released 20 minutes later on $50,000 bond. Notably, she worked with that department for four years before moving over to the Tulsa PD. The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation is still pending.
From the probable cause affidavit Doug Campbell, lead investigator for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, filed with the district court:
Officer Shelby reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher, who was not responding to verbal commands and was walking away with his hands held up, and becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted. Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating a weapon was present.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Crutcher’s family, was happy about the indictment and hopeful for a conviction. “Make no mistake, it was clear from the beginning that charges were necessary in this case. The officer responsible for the death of Terence Crutcher had to be brought to justice to be held accountable for her actions,” he said in a statement cited by The Washington Post. “We remain optimistic that the State Attorney will now do his job, and vigorously prosecute the officer to the fullest extent of the law, bringing some form of justice to the Crutcher family.”
Crutcher’s family held a press conference following the announcement. His twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, spoke poignantly about the need to end police violence in Black communities. “We will stay vigilant as this process moves forward, and join the others in peacefully in demanding greater accountability and transparency from law enforcement.” Watch highlights below, courtesy of USA Today.