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Not Guilty Verdict in Tulsa Police Shooting; Officer's Job Status under Evaluation

19-May-2017

After nine hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in the manslaughter trial of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Jo Shelby. Shelby, a 10-year veteran of the police force, was accused of overreacting when she shot Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed man. Prosecutors say Shelby had an irrational fear of harm from the man--a fear that stemmed from racial bias. Crutcher was black; Shelby is white.

However, Shelby's defense team argued that the officer was merely using her training as a police officer, and that she fired upon the unarmed man because she believed he may be reaching for a gun.

The case was complex, particularly given the heated overtones of police shootings involving white officers and black suspects across the nation. Shelby's accusers say that Crutcher had his hands up; they say he was not suspected of any crime, noting that Shelby was responding to a call about a car stopped in the road. They say Crutcher was killed because he was a black man having car trouble.

Shelby's supporters see things differently. Yes, they admit, Crutcher did have his hands up--but then he dropped them. He refused to comply with police commands to stop. He appeared to be under the influence of PCP (a fact later confirmed by toxicology reports). When confronted with police officers with guns and tasers drawn, he dropped his hands and appeared to reach into the open window of a vehicle. Shelby was merely using her police training to meet a perceived lethal threat with equal defense. As her attorney stated, "When someone’s going for lethal, you do not go less lethal.

But the problem facing jurors is that Crutcher was not "going lethal." No one knows why he walked back to his vehicle and refused to stop when ordered to do so by an officer with a gun drawn. No one knows why he apparently reached into the open window of his vehicle. But it wasn't to get a gun. That, we do know. The question jurors had to determine: Was Betty Jo Shelby acting out of an irrational fear when she fired on Terrence Crutcher? Or was she following police protocols in the face of a perceived threat given the totality of the situation?

Jurors deliberated for nine hours before finding Shelby not guilty of second degree manslaughter. The Tulsa Police Union has filed a lawsuit against Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, saying he violated protocol and caved to media pressure in filing charges against Shelby before police even concluded their investigation and presented their findings to the DA's office. And Officer Shelby's job status is currently under evaluation.

After all, even if a jury found her not guilty, she is still guilty in the eyes of many in the public. She could have a target on her back if she returns to patrol, and if she is involved in a similar situation in the future, her judgement may be clouded by this experience.



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