Tulsa officer late to career, had de-escalation training
TULSA, OKLA. >> The Tulsa police officer accused of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man took a roundabout path toward her dream job of joining law enforcement, with stops as a convenience store clerk, an Air National Guard member and a teaching assistant.
Family members and colleagues say Betty Jo Shelby, 42, was an engaged community member, a churchgoer and cool-headed enough to be tapped as a field-training officer even though she didn’t join the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office until 2007 and the city’s force until 2011.
Despite completing de-escalation training, Shelby “reacted unreasonably” when she fatally shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on Sept. 16, according to an affidavit prosecutors filed with the first-degree murder charge. Shelby, who posted bond early Friday, faces four years to life in prison if convicted.
Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, said Friday that she had a reputation of having a “cool head on her shoulders.”
“This wasn’t her first week on the job,” Wood said. “Betty is a field-training officer. The department has picked her to train new officers, and people will tell you this isn’t Betty Shelby to overreact to a situation.”
Shelby, who is white, was headed to a domestic violence call when she encountered Crutcher’s SUV abandoned on a city street, straddling the center line. Shelby did not activate her dashboard camera when she first came across Crutcher and his SUV. But other video footage shows Crutcher walking away from Shelby and toward his SUV with his arms in the air. The footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot that killed Crutcher.
Wood said Crutcher escalated the situation by not communicating with Shelby, disobeying her commands and walking away from her. “One thing about de-escalation, that’s a two-way street,” Wood said. “You have to at least have some open communication. There was none with Mr. Crutcher.”
Mark Sawa, a retired major with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office in Austin, Texas, who trains police officers on use of force, said: “If somebody is not contained, if they’re walking away from you, your opportunity to defuse that encounter is greatly diminished if they’re mobile and not stationary.”
He cautioned that he couldn’t fully assess how the situation got out of hand, as no video is available until after Shelby already has her gun drawn and Crutcher is walking away from her with his hands in the air.
Crutcher died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the state medical examiner’s office said Friday, adding that the full autopsy and toxicology reports were not finished. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday.