Tulsa of­fi­cer late to ca­reer, had de-es­ca­la­tion train­ing

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

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.

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