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Legal Game Changer: Terence Crutcher had “High Levels” of PCP when shot by OK police

Legal Game Changer: Terence Crutcher had “High Levels” of PCP when shot by OK police

Another racial narrative in a police shooting appears to be falling apart.

It appears that another negative narrative about a police shooting of a black suspect is about to go down in flames. This particular case involves the shooting death of suspect Terence Crutcher by Oklahoma police officer Betty Jo Shelby.

The racial narrative in the shooting death of Crutcher appears to have taken a fatal blow with the news yesterday, as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, that the coroner in the case has determined the Crutcher “had a high level of the drug PCP in his body” at the time of his death (emphasis added).

This finding essentially puts the finishing bow on Officer Shelby’s narrative of a lawful use of deadly force, which was already consistent with all available evidence. It also puts a spotlight on the local prosecutor’s shameful and patently politically-motivated decision to charge Shelby with manslaughter in Crutcher’s death even before the coroner’s findings had been released.

It is worthwhile here to recap Shelby’s narrative of the events surrounding the shooting of Crutcher (drawn primarily from this ABC news story). Naturally, none of us were there, Shelby’s recounting of events is only one side of the story, and it is subject to disproof by incriminating evidence (if any can be found).

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the legal standard to be applied is that Shelby’s guilty must be proven, and thus her narrative of innocence disproven, beyond a reasonable doubt in order to overcome her presumed innocence. Unless there is some reasonable prospect of that happening there is no possible legal justification for bringing criminal charges against her.

I suggest that even a superficial examination of her narrative, considered with the totality of all the other available evidence, makes it extraordinarily unlikely that it can be disproven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is even more the case with the coroner’s finding of a high level of PCP in Crutcher’s body.

Shelby’s Account of What Happened

Shelby states that she was responding to an unrelated domestic violence call when she came across Crutcher standing in the middle of the road, eyes on the ground. Shelby also saw an SUV parked forty feet or so further down the road, positioned across the middle of the road obstructing traffic in both directions, with the engine running. (Helicopter video shows Shelby’s patrol car stopped just short of where she first observed Crutcher, and thus a similar distance from the SUV.)

Shelby approached the SUV and observed that the vehicles doors were closed and the windows open. At this point she observed Crutcher walking towards her. She asked him if the SUV was his vehicle, but Crutcher did not reply, but rather simply stared at her. In addition, as he approached he put his hand into his left pocket. Shelby told Crutcher to remove his hand from his pocket, but Crutcher was also unresponsive to this request.

To this point there can be little dispute that Shelby’s conduct had been entirely reasonable and appropriate to the circumstances, and that it was Crutcher who initiated conduct that any officer would reasonably perceive as potentially threatening, and who was non-compliant with lawful police orders.

Shelby ordered Crutcher to take his hand from his pocket a second time, and this time Crutcher did respond but in an exaggerated manner by putting his hands in the air, which Shelby had not requested. Shelby again tried to communicate with Crutcher, and he was again non-responsive, merely mumbling under his breath. Crutcher then walked to the edge of the roadway, turned back to face Shelby, and again started to reach for his pocket.

Here it is worth noting that Crutcher’s second reach for his pocket, after being repeatedly ordered not to do so, would be perceived by an reasonable officer as a threatening motion. Pockets and the area around them are, after all, where weapons are routinely kept, and police officers are fully entitled to demand that subjects of a reasonable inquiry not engage in threatening conduct. Under these circumstances there can be no doubt that Shelby’s inquiry of Crutcher was reasonable under the circumstances.

“High Levels” of Consistent with Shelby Account

Furthermore, given the totality of Crutcher’s demeanor and conduct, Officer Shelby (a trained drug recognition expert) came to believe that Crutcher was “on something,” potentially PCP.

The medical literature recognizes PCP as an “infamous hallucinogenic sought for its ability to induce the illusion of euphoria, omnipotence, superhuman strength, and social and sexual prowess …” with symptoms that include “slurred speech, violent behavior and blank staring” and that is known to “induce acute schizophrenia, including agitation, psychosis, audiovisual hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and catatonia.”

All of this is consistent with Crutcher’s behavior in interacting with Officer Shelby, and the association of “violent behavior” with PCP use would naturally have been particularly alarming to any reasonable officer.

It was at this point that Officer Shelby used her radio to request assistance from other officers, reporting that she was dealing with a non-compliant suspect. As the substantially larger and potentially violent Crutcher continued to close on her, Shelby drew her service pistol and commanded Crutcher to stop and get on his knees.

Here Crutcher has a clear choice. He can comply with Shelby’s lawful orders to secure the safety of the scene, or he can remain threatening non-compliant in the face of a drawn weapon. Crutcher choose poorly, an began to move back towards the SUV.

Just as a pocket and the waistline of a suspect are places where officers are reasonably concerned might contain a weapon, exactly the same is true of a suspect’s vehicle. Indeed, the readily accessible areas of a vehicle are subject to police search upon a reasonable stop, without any requirement for a search warrant, precisely for that reason. Indeed, it is not uncommon for officers to find themselves the targets of weapons retrieved from vehicles by suspects, often at the cost of the officer’s life.

Crutcher’s Return to the Vehicle

A classic example of this occurring is that of the shooting death of Police Officer Kyle Dinkheller. Dinkheller has made a lawful traffic stop, and the driver was non-compliant to repeated lawful commands. Eventually the suspect would return to his vehicle, contrary to Dinkheller’s commands, and retrieve a rifle with which he attacked and murdered Dinkheller. This incident was captured by Dinkheller’s dash camera, and is used widely throughout the US and elsewhere to train officers on the dangers of suspects who attempt to access their vehicles contrary to police commands. Officer Shelby is known to have observed this video in her own training, and thus would be acutely aware of the danger presented by Crutcher attempting to access the SUV.

The Dinkheller video is embedded below, but I caution that it is not for the faint of heart as it shows a good man being murdered. (Incidentally, it is commonly believed that Dinkheller was not more aggressive in neutralizing his attacker earlier in the interaction because he had just been chastised by his department for a recent use-of-force incident. And early example of the deadly “Ferguson effect,” perhaps?)

In short, when Crutcher began moving towards his vehicle contrary to Shelby’s repeated order to desist, his conduct was exactly as threatening as if he was reaching for his pocket contrary to repeated police orders.

As Crutcher continues to move towards the driver’s side of the SUV, Shelby maintains her muzzle on the suspect and continues to give him lawful commands to which he is non-compliant. Consistent with standard police training, Shelby uses the rear of the SUV to provide cover from any force Crutcher may attempt to bring to bear. This positioning places her such that she is looking down the length of the driver’s side of the SUV, from the rear towards the front of the vehicle.

The dash camera video captured by Shelby’s patrol car, captures Crutcher approaching the driver’s side of the SUV. At this point several backup officers respond to support Shelby, and crowd up alongside her. In doing so their bodies incidentally block the camera’s view of Crutcher. The relevant portion of that dash camera video can be seen here:

It is Shelby’s statement that it was at this point that Crutcher has moved adjacent to the driver’s side door of the SUV. Crutcher turned to the vehicle, and reached into the driver’s side window. It was at this point that Shelby fired her service weapon once, mortally wounding Crutcher. A second officer who had presented a Taser device would also discharge the weapon at Crutcher.

No Necessity that Shelby Saw a Weapon

Shelby states that she believed that when Crutcher reached into his SUV he was doing so to retrieve a weapon. This belief is a reasonable one based on Crutcher’s observed demeanor and conduct and Shelby’s training and experience as an officer (see again Dinkheller, above).

It is worth noting that neither the law nor tactical reality requires that an officer wait until they actually see a suspect’s weapon before they can engage with defensive force. As a practical reality, waiting until a weapon is actually displayed leaves the officer with too little time in which to react in self-defense. Instead, the officer is permitted to use defensive force against a reasonably perceived imminent threat of force.

The following video clip we first see a shooter responding to a audible signal to fire his gun (to represent an officer visually identifying a weapon), and we see it takes him an average of about 0.8 seconds to fire.  We next see a shooter retrieving a weapon from a vehicle and firing at a target, and we can see it takes less than half that amount of time to for the “aggressor” to fire their shot.  This makes intuitive sense, because the aggressor has already made the mental decision to shoot, and thus need only spend time on the physical act of firing.  In short, if a defender waits until they see the criminal aggressor’s gun, the action of the aggressor invariably beats the reaction of the defender. (Note, the clip below is only a small portion of the original, which was produced by a third-party on Youtube; I encourage you to view the video in full here.)

Given this practical reality, then, there is little doubt that Crutcher’s conduct of reaching into the vehicle contrary to police orders and knowing he was being held at gunpoint is consistent with Shelby’s reasonably perception of an imminent threat of deadly force.

In addition to the video captured by Shelby’s dash camera, there is also video of these events that was captured by a police helicopter overhead. I’ve also embedded that video below. There are two important points to make in the context of that video. First, there is nothing explicitly inconsistent between the helicopter video and Shelby’s stated narrative of events. Second, even if there were some inconsistency, the legal standard by which Shelby is judged is what a reasonable person in her position would have perceived under the circumstances, not what a person in a helicopter might have perceived. In any case, here is that helicopter video:

If the evidence favorable to Shelby stopped there, Shelby’s narrative of a lawful use of force would be remarkably robust, absent clearly rebutting incriminating evidence. But the evidence favorable to Shelby does not stop there.

Following the shooting the SUV was searched, and PCP was in fact found in the vehicle. This is consistent with Shelby’s observations of Crutcher’s behavior and her reasonable perception that Crutcher presented a substantive risk of violence.

Still, while it would be shockingly uncommon to find PCP in a vehicle and not in the suspect under these circumstances, it was at least theoretically possible that such was the case here. After all, if there was no PCP found in Crutcher’s system that could undermine the reasonableness of Shelby’s perception of Crutcher’s dangerousness.

As experience strongly suggested, however, in fact there was PCP found in Crutcher’s system, and not just modest amounts of PCP but “a high level.”

In summary, this finding of high levels of PCP in Crutcher combined with the evidence already available makes it all but impossible that Shelby’s narrative of a lawful use of force in self-defense and defense of her fellow officers can be disproven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Video Helps and Hurts Shelby

Is it theoretically possible that evidence might emerge that undermines Shelby’s narrative of innocence? Sure. A video that clearly shows Crutcher was not acting in a manner that could be reasonably perceived by Shelby as reaching into his vehicle, for example, would seriously undermine her narrative. Neither the dash cam nor the helicopter video shows this, however, and absent some similar incriminating Shelby’s narrative of innocence seems the clear winner.

It used to be the case that the mere fact that a prosecutor had brought charges would be sufficient to strongly suggest that substantive incriminating evidence must exist, perhaps not known to the public but known to the prosecutor.

In recent years, however, we have seen numerous instances of prosecutors bringing political cases against defendants with little or no incriminating evidence, and even in the face of an overwhelming volume of exculpatory evidence. The trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the trials of the Baltimore police officers in the in-custody death of Freddie Gray are obvious examples.

It seems increasingly rare that prosecutors apply the law appropriately and decline to bring charges even in a racially-charged case where such charges are not warranted. The refusal of the prosecutor to bring Officer Darren Wilson to trial over the lawful shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson is one such example of adherence to due process (a refusal that would also be adopted by the Department of Justice).

It would appear, then, that the shooting of Terence Crutcher will not have the “legs” needed by Black Lives Matter to leverage for their long-term political purposes. In such cases the event is typically allowed to quietly wither away without further examination, and to disappear from the collective historical memory. Instances of police uses of force that are lawful are, after all, of little interest to racial activists.

They can be certain, of course, that soon enough another non-compliant and prospectively violent black suspect will be shot by a white police officer, and then they can crank up the propaganda machine once again until that case, too, is proven to have been lawful. Then rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Attorney Andrew Branca and his firm Law of Self Defense have been providing internationally-recognized expertise in American self-defense law for almost 20 years in the form of books, live seminars & online training (both accredited for CLE), public speaking engagements, and individualized legal consultation.
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There are few things more frightening than being in close proximity to someone high on PCP in my personal experience.

    yup. had one guy point 44 at me and due to kids in proximity could not draw and fire my 45 (army mp in germany) at him.
    so we wrestled gun away.
    dented 5 cell maglite over his head.
    didn’t stop him.
    drove head into wall and broke 2×4
    didn’t stop him.
    finally, while partner held arm with weapon I was able to get stick around throat and choke the hell out f him.
    partner had to stop me from finishing him off.
    pcp involved

Unfortunately the officer has already be tried in the court of public opinion. If she gets off then BLM will stage riots. The BLM MO is to take causes that are not black and white but gray. Here in Charlotte they rioted even after the dead man was show on video with a gun.

“He was not pointing it anyone,” they claimed. “So Police overreacted.”

    It is high time for the “silent majority” to tell BLM and their SJW agitating brethren to STFU and go crawl back under their rocks.

    Hopefully that can be done in a peaceful manner. If not, well, tough shit. Enough is enough.

    Old0311 in reply to MattMusson. | October 12, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I was shocked to find out there was another prosecutor as sorry as Mosby. I hope he is voted out of office soon.

    rightway in reply to MattMusson. | October 13, 2016 at 6:13 am

    BLM is a well organized leftist organization. Riots, if any, will wait until after Hillary is elected, so that law abiding citizens that vote won’t be spooked.

      Char Char Binks in reply to rightway. | October 13, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      BLM is NOT well organized. There are groups within it, or affiliated with it, that are very well organized, and it’s subject to influence and agitation, but #blacklivesmatter is an unruly mob.

holdingmynose | October 12, 2016 at 3:22 pm

The prosecutor is applying the Mosby standard to the case, in other words “what do the SJW’s want?”.

assemblerhead | October 12, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for the update Mr. Branca.

The officer is lucky, in the fact that a single shot took him down.

From what I have heard, recommended weapons are a 12GA or 10GA shotgun, and “use the entire box of shells”. Or they might just get back up and keep coming.

The military had this kind of problem in Vietnam.
The “Ma Deuce” M2 .50 Cal Browning MG / M45 Quadmount “Quad-50 / KrautMower / TreeChopper” was the preferred solution. Nobody got back up.
The .30 Cal M60 didn’t cut it. They got back up and kept coming.

    It was a well-placed shot, and the terminal ballistics were outstanding, including penetration of both lungs, side-to-side. It’s obvious that a major artery was hit by the tremendous amount of blood seen almost immediately on Crutcher’s shirt. No doubt it was a mortal wound upon impact, and it was only a matter of exsanguination to make the death official.

    What? Too soon? 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    Gremlin1974 in reply to assemblerhead. | October 12, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    There is a fair amount of urban legend attached to “PCP invincibility” As the above example shows a well placed shot still works as does a coordinated effort to restrain them by 4 or 5 people. (I have helped do it on 2 occasions, but I was much younger then, lol.) While they can be very strong and are for all intent and purposes violently mentally ill, they are not invincible and do not just walk with impunity though walls of gunfire. 🙂

Thank you, Andrew, as useful as each of your previous posts here! I now understand the sequence of events and the legal standards. My hope is that the prosecutor will come to the same conclusions you have and drop this case.

should have tased him again and again after he was down to make him jump around and die faster.

By now we know that a black man’s death at the hands of the police is simply a convenient reason for paid party thugs to riot and loot until the truth comes out a few weeks later.

It’s a damned expensive and damaging way to drum up votes.

What do the facts of the case have to do with whether it has “legs” for BLM or not? They are still celebrating Michael Brown & Trayvon Martin as martyrs, and in fact I don’t think a single case in the news since Zimmerman has proved a cop wrongly killing a black suspect (although the trial of the Charleston SC cop who shot a fleeing suspect in the back is beginning now & may well end in conviction). It hasn’t stopped BLM, Democrats, the Hillary campaign, or other liberal groups from keeping their false meme alive.

    Semper Why in reply to Estragon. | October 12, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    That Miami cop who shot the black man who was laying on his back with his hands in the air next to the autistic kid comes to mind. Interestingly, BLM aren’t protesting this one. They’d rather riot over the PCP case or the felon jumping out of the car with a gun.

      ecreegan in reply to Semper Why. | October 13, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      Rioting over outrageous behavior from a cop doesn’t scare the other cops badly enough. It’s easy enough to simply resolve not to shoot a fleeing man in the back, or a man lying down on the ground unmoving; doesn’t make decent cops change their behavior. Rioting over cops defending themselves discourages cops from putting themselves as risk, and therefore cuts down on law enforcement.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Estragon. | October 13, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    You forgot to include the media. Without their partnership, the ‘rats and their satellite operations such as BLM wouldn’t have the power that they do. All they need is a megaphone (the press) and a crowd of uninformed sheeple.

    ecreegan in reply to Estragon. | October 13, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    There’s been one case of an officer fatally shooting a black man where the officer appears to have been grievously in the wrong: Walter Scott, shot by Michael Slager on 4/4/2015. Walter Scott was pulled over for a broken taillight, fled (possibly after a struggle(*)) and was shot in the back as he ran away. Officer Slager was then caught on video picking up something near where he’d been standing as when he fired, walking over to the corpse, and dropping the object by the corpse. This was presumably the taser he claimed they’d struggled over; at least, that’s what was found in that approximate location.

    (*) Slager said there was a struggle. There’s no evidence otherwise but Slager falsified evidence in the case, so as far as I’m concerned his word has absolutely no value.

    Cops are only allowed to shoot fleeing suspects if they pose a threat to others, and they aren’t allowed to tamper with evidence at the scene. Walter Scott had an almost-clean criminal record: he’d had a conviction for assault in his youth, nothing for years. But he had a bench warrant for failure to pay child support. He’d failed to pay child support because he’d been fired for being arrested for failure to pay child support because he’d been fired for … ultimately because the state lost his payments, and after he got fired the first time he never found another job which paid high enough to pay the child support that the state expected him to pay.

    Slager’s department fired him when the video went public (afaik they didn’t see it privately first) and he’s been indicted on both state and federal charges.

    But did BLM use Walter Scott as a poster boy? No; they used Michael Brown (4/9/2015) instead. This tells me all I need to know about BLM.

Great post, Andrew.

Thanks for the informative article, Andrew. As most of the frequent readers here will note I am a huge defender of anyone defending themselves. However, I had only watched the aerial video and had some reservations regarding this incident, but now seeing both videos and hearing reading the officers version I can call this a “good shoot”.

Of course the prosecutor will move forward with the case because liberals have an amazing ability to ignore anything that doesn’t conform to their world view.

P.S. Andrew how are the new Diggs? Are you unpacked yet?

Mr Branca
Officer Ray Tensing goes on trial Oct 24 .
You did a piece on him last year .
Reddit did a line on this shooting and there several analyses that shows he was dragged as he had stated .
I could send the links to you .
Is the Andrew, the email?

I saved them I could email them to you.

Andrew, there are many claims that the helicopter video shows closed windows, therefore Crutcher couldn’t have reached in. I don’t see that myself.

    Char Char Binks in reply to SDN. | October 13, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Benjamin Crump made that claim. He can’t tell the difference between blood spatter and a seatbelt, apparently.

      Does nobody remember Benjamin Crump’s creative artistic works with the truth during the Zimmerman trial and the Michael Brown kerfuffle–heck, for that second one he even put a fake pathologist in front of the media.


    I don’t see the window clearly closed in the helicopter video, either, but it hardly matters. What’s relevant is what Shelby saw, and whether the inferences she made as a result were reasonable. The fact that the helicopter may have seen something different (if it did) does not make Shelby’s perception unreasonable. Remember, we’re not required to make perfect observations when acting in self-defense, we’re merely expected to make reasonable observations. Mistakes are perfectly acceptable, if they are reasonable mistakes.


“It is worth noting that neither the law nor tactical reality requires that an officer wait until they actually see a suspect’s weapon before they can engage with defensive force.”

Yeah, that was saved for Rules of Engagement of our military in Afghanistan.

Char Char Binks | October 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm

It’s funny, many articles reported that Crutcher had PCP in his system, seemingly minimizing its importance, when the tox report actually said he had “acute phencyclidine intoxication.” And by “funny” I mean “not funny”.