Officer Betty Shelby of the Tulsa police department has been charged with felony manslaughter in the first degree, according to Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. Shelby, a white woman, is charged with firing the fatal shot that killed Pastor Terence Crutcher (40), a black man, as he stood next to his SUV that had stalled on a road on the evening of September 16. Kurnzweiler said, “It is our responsibility to determine if the filing of a criminal charge is justified under the law." The charge, he said, is “warranted.”
An arrest warrant was issued for Shelby. There are plans for her to surrender willingly, said Kurnzweiler. The criminal complaint against her cites that her "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting" of Crutcher. Shelby stands accused of "unlawfully and unnecessarily" shooting Crutcher after he did not comply with her "lawful orders."
An investigator wrote that 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 up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted. Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating and [sic] weapon was present.”
Crutcher’s surviving family members said they are happy that the charges have been brought against Shelby and want a "vigorous prosecution." Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons expressed their gratitude to the police, "Today, we are thankful to TPD, we are thankful to (police) Chief (Chuck) Jordan for providing information to the District Attorney's office, and we are happy that charges were brought."
"This is a small victory," Crutcher's sister Tiffany told the media. "The chain breaks here. We're going to break the chains of police brutality," she added. "We know the history."
Shelby faces the possibility of spending four years to life in prison, if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Her attorney, Scott Wood, said this week that Shelby believed that Crutcher was behaving strangely, ignored her commands, and that he might be reaching for a weapon. There was no weapon found in his vehicle.
On the evening of September 16, authorities fielded a 911 call from a woman who said that a vehicle was blocking the road and that a man was running away. According to media reports, the man warned that it was going to blow up, the caller said. While Shelby was the first officer to arrive, she was not responding to the 911 call. Her attorney claimed that she was enroute to a domestic violence call when she saw Crutcher in the roadway. Her attorney said Shelby thought Crutcher was reaching for a weapon in his car. She told homicide detectives afterward, "I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then," according to her attorney.
Multiple police cameras, including dashcams and a camera on a helicopter, recorded the incident. In the video, Crutcher is holding his hands above his head before the shooting. He then walked away from Shelby towards his vehicle. The videos do not show whether his vehicle window was open or shut. The incident occurred at approximately 7:44 p.m. local time, and sundown was at approximately 7:20 p.m. The video show that the shooting unfolded in twilight.
Activists conducted several rallies tonight in Tulsa. Marq Lewis of We the People Oklahoma met with Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan yesterday and credited the department for its transparency. He said that Jordan is trying to be as transparent as possible but cannot say much due to the ongoing investigation. He called on the department to handle the investigation urgently. The police released a statement, saying "There is currently no credible information that any of the gatherings, protests, or rallies will be anything other than peaceful."
Prosecutor Kurnzweiler called the shooting "tragic" in a statement:
"The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Crutcher are on the hearts and minds of many people in this community. It is important to note that despite the heightened tensions felt by all — which seemingly beg for an emotional reaction — our community has consistently demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process. It is the shared responsibility of all who have the ability to control their reactions to do just that.
"To the ministers of this community — all of your flock, regardless of their color, creed, ethnicity, background, social status, employment or neighborhood need the wisdom of your guiding hands. To the media — your community needs you now more than ever to be the objective messengers of the facts which report the truth. To the lawyers — it is our responsibility to demonstrate to our community the importance of adherence to the rule of law and the ethical standards which allow our courtrooms to be the source of justice. Officer Shelby, although now charged, is presumed to be innocent under the law until a judge or jury determines otherwise.
"I do not know why things happen in this world as they do. We need to pray for wisdom and guidance on each of our respective paths. Each of us at the end of our days wil"l have to account for our own actions. The only way I know how to walk my path is to pray every day to pray, and to serve my fellow citizen so that he or she may be lifted up.