Tulsa po­lice of­fi­cer charged in man’s death

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Justin Juoza­pavi­cius and Sean Mur­phy

Pros­e­cu­tors charged a white Ok­la­homa po­lice of­fi­cer with first-de­gree man­slaugh­ter Thursday, less than a week af­ter she killed an un­armed black man on a city street and just days af­ter po­lice re­leased graphic videos, say­ing in court doc­u­ments the of­fi­cer “re­acted un­rea­son­ably.”

Tulsa of­fi­cer Betty Shelby fa­tally shot 40-year-old Ter­ence Crutcher on Sept. 16. The af­fi­davit filed with the charge says Shelby “re­acted un­rea­son­ably by es­ca­lat­ing the sit­u­a­tion from a con­fronta­tion with Mr. Crutcher, who was not re­spond­ing to ver­bal com­mands and was walk­ing away from her with his hands held up, be­com­ing emo­tion­ally in­volved to the point that she over re­acted.”

Tulsa County District At­tor­ney Steve Kun­zweiler said ar­range­ments were be­ing made for Shelby’s sur­ren­der.

The swift ac­tion in Tulsa stood in con­trast to Char­lotte, North Carolina, where po­lice re­fused un­der mount­ing pres­sure Thursday to re­lease video of the shoot­ing of an­other black man this week and the Na­tional Guard was called in to try to a head off a third night of vi­o­lence. De­mon­stra­tions in Tulsa since Crutcher’s death have been con­sis­tently peace­ful.

Dash­cam and aerial footage of the shoot­ing and its af­ter­math showed Crutcher walk­ing away from Shelby with his arms in the air. The footage does not of­fer a clear view of when Shelby fired the sin­gle shot that killed Crutcher. Her at­tor­ney has said Crutcher was not fol­low­ing po­lice com­mands and that Shelby opened fire when the man be­gan to reach into his SUV win­dow.

But Crutcher’s fam­ily im­me­di­ately dis­counted that claim, say­ing the father of four posed no threat to the of­fi­cers. They also pointed to an en­larged photo from po­lice footage that ap­pears to show Crutcher’s win­dow was rolled up. And po­lice said Crutcher did not have a gun on him or in his ve­hi­cle.

The af­fi­davit filed Thursday also in­di­cates that Shelby “cleared the driver’s side front” of Crutcher’s ve­hi­cle be­fore she be­gan in­ter­act­ing with Crutcher, sug­gest­ing she may have known there was no gun on the driver’s side of the ve­hi­cle.

The af­fi­davit says Shelby told po­lice homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tors that “she was in fear for her life and thought Mr. Crutcher was go­ing to kill her. When she be­gan fol­low­ing Mr. Crutcher to the ve­hi­cle with her duty weapon drawn, she was yelling for him to stop and get on his knees re­peat­edly.”

Crutcher was wear­ing “baggy clothes” but Shelby “was not able to see any weapons or bulges in­di­cat­ing a weapon was present,” the af­fi­davit states.

Pros­e­cu­tors of­fer two pos­si­ble the­o­ries in charg­ing doc­u­ments: that Shelby killed Crutcher im­pul­sively in a fit of anger or that she wrongly killed him as she sought to de­tain him. The case first goes to a judge, who will de­cide whether there is enough ev­i­dence for a trial. Lee F. Ber­lin, a Tulsabased de­fense lawyer and a for­mer as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney in Ok­la­homa, said pros­e­cu­tors may at some point de­cide to move for­ward with only one of the the­o­ries or could present both to ju­rors and let them de­cide.

If con­victed, Shelby faces be­tween four years and life in prison.

Crutcher’s twin sis­ter, Tiffany Crutcher, said the fam­ily was pleased the crim­i­nal charge was filed and urged a vig­or­ous pros­e­cu­tion that leads to a con­vic­tion.

“Our goal now is to en­sure that this never hap­pens to an­other in­no­cent cit­i­zen,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “We’re go­ing to break the chains of in­jus­tice. We’re go­ing to break the chains of po­lice bru­tal­ity.”

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said po­lice worked quickly to pro­vide Kun­zweiler with the in­for­ma­tion he needed to de­cide whether to charge the of­fi­cer.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate their ef­forts as well as the District At­tor­ney’s usual thor­ough eval­u­a­tion of the rules of law for which we are all ac­count­able,” Bartlett said in a writ­ten state­ment. “We will con­tinue to be trans­par­ent and en­sure the sys­tem car­ries out its re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide jus­tice.”

Shelby, who joined the Tulsa Po­lice De­part­ment in De­cem­ber 2011, was en route to a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence call when she en­coun­tered Crutcher’s ve­hi­cle aban­doned on a city street, strad­dling the cen­ter line. Shelby did not ac­ti­vate her pa­trol car’s dash­board cam­era, so no footage ex­ists of what first hap­pened be­tween the two be­fore other of­fi­cers ar­rived.

The po­lice footage shows Crutcher ap­proach­ing the driver’s side of the SUV, then more of­fi­cers walk up and Crutcher ap­pears to lower his hands and place them on the ve­hi­cle. A man in­side a po­lice he­li­copter over­head says: “That looks like a bad dude, too. Prob­a­bly on some­thing.”

Po­lice Sgt. Dave Walker has said in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a vial of the drug PCP in Crutcher’s ve­hi­cle. Shelby’s at­tor­ney, Scott Wood, has said that Shelby com­pleted drug-recog­ni­tion ex­pert train­ing and thought Crutcher was act­ing like he might be un­der the in­flu­ence of PCP.

At­tor­neys for Crutcher’s fam­ily said the fam­ily didn’t know whether drugs were found in the SUV, but that even if they were, it wouldn’t jus­tify the shoot­ing.

A tox­i­col­ogy re­port could take sev­eral weeks.

Wood did not im­me­di­ately re­turn phone mes­sages seek­ing com­ment about Shelby be­ing charged.

In the videos, the of­fi­cers sur­round Crutcher and he sud­denly drops to the ground. A voice heard on the po­lice ra­dio says: “Shots fired!” The of­fi­cers back away and Crutcher is left unat­tended on the street for about two min­utes be­fore an of­fi­cer puts on med­i­cal gloves and be­gins to at­tend to him.

“The tragic cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death of Mr. Crutcher are on the hearts and minds of many peo­ple in this com­mu­nity,” Kun­zweiler said. “It’s im­por­tant to note that de­spite the height­ened ten­sions felt by all, which seem­ingly beg for an emo­tional re­sponse and re­ac­tion, our com­mu­nity has con­sis­tently demon­strated the will­ing­ness to re­spect the ju­di­cial process.”

At least two dozen peo­ple gath­ered out­side the court­house af­ter the district at­tor­ney an­nounced the of­fi­cer was charged. Later, a peace­ful rally was held in front of City Hall. Some de­mon­stra­tors ex­pressed dis­ap­pointed Shelby wasn’t charged with first-de­gree mur­der, but oth­ers con­sid­ered Thursday’s an­nounce­ment a vic­tory.

Tulsa Po­lice De­part­ment of­fi­cer Betty Shelby

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