Trial Underway in Terrence Crutcher Shooting Death

The manslaughter trial of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has finished its first week, with a jury of nine women and three men set to determine the fate of the officer.

Shelby is accused of being "overemotional" and overreacting when she shot and killed an unarmed man, Terrence Crutcher, last September. The case prompted national media attention because Shelby is white and Crutcher is black.

Shelby and her defense deny that the shooting was racially motivated, saying that the 10-year police veteran had never before fired her service weapon in the line of duty. Shelby says she was in fear for her life because she was dealing with a non-compliant man who appeared to be under the influence of PCP. She says she believed that Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a weapon when she fired the shot.

Among evidence presented at trial was 40 minutes of an interview between Shelby and lead homicide detective Sgt. Dave Walker just days after the shooting. During the interview, Shelby says that she was in fear of her life, and that she couldn't believe Crutcher "made her do it." 

Sgt. Walker asked Officer Shelby if she felt it necessary to fire a second shot at Crutcher. She replied, "No, because the action stopped. I only used the force that I needed to stop."

Some have questioned Shelby's use of force, saying that she should have fired a taser instead. Her attorney says of Shelby's decision to draw her gun rather than her taser, "When someone’s going for lethal, you do not go less lethal."

While the prosecution is calling Shelby's actions on September 16, 2016, an overreaction, the defense is turning the tables, saying that the defendant reacted in accordance with her training, and that the only party guilty of overreaction is Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler.

Shelby's supporters say Kunzweiler's decision to file charges was a knee-jerk reaction to media scrutiny based on the color of Terrence Crutcher's skin. Immediately after the shooting, incident commander Cpl. Wyett Poth advised Shelby not to talk to anyone until she "retained her rights." He testified, "I knew there was going to be a group of people that didn't like what happened simply because of the color of somebody's skin."

Sgt. Walker said he felt "angry" and "disrespected" to find out through media reports that Kunzweiler decided to file charges, even though the investigation had not yet been completed and the police department had not presented its findings to the D.A.'s office.

Shelby's attorney stated in opening arguments, "Somebody did act unreasonably and in the heat of passion and out of fear, but it was not Betty Shelby. It was Steve Kunzweiler. . . . What he did was not protocol."

If convicted of manslaughter, Shelby faces four years to life in prison.

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