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Oklahoma Officer Betty Shelby Acquitted in Shooting Death of Terence Crutcher

Oklahoma Officer Betty Shelby Acquitted in Shooting Death of Terence Crutcher

After 8 months of investigation and trial, mixed-race jury unanimously acquits in 9 hours

Yesterday, Tulsa OK Police Officer Betty Shelby, who is white, was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter charges arising from the September 16, 2016 shooting death of Terence Crutcher, who was black, according to reports by CNN and local Tulsa television news station KTUL.

Before issuing a verdict Wednesday night, the nine white jurors and three black jurors asked the judge if they could explain their verdict in court.

The judge told them they can only announce their verdict in court, not explain it, but said they were free to explain publicly after the trial concluded.

After the verdict, Shelby left without making a statement as Crutcher’s family tearfully left the courtroom.

The jury, consisting of nine white jurors and three black jurors, returned their unanimous verdict after nine hours of deliberations.

The essential facts of the case are that Officer Shelby came upon a non-compliant Crutcher stumbling around a roadway in the evening hours [*] after having apparently abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the road.  Crutcher repeatedly made motions as if to reach for a weapon on his person, then walked to his vehicle, even as Shelby (and later more offices on the scene) were ordering him to cease these actions.  When Crutcher reached into his vehicle, Shelby shot  him once, causing fatal injury.  Shelby has consistently held that she fired the shot in defense of herself and the other officers on the scene.

This verdict should come as no surprise to those who have read our previous posts on this case.  For example, last October 12, only three weeks after the shooting, we noted in Legal Game Changer: Terence Crutcher had “High Levels” of PCP when shot by OK police that:

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.

We covered this case again on April 3, after Officer Shelby made an appearance on 60 Minutes: Terence Crutcher shooting Officer: “if he would’ve just done as I asked him”. In that post we noted:

Absent even a hint of evidence to counter that narrative of self-defense, it hardly seems possible that the prosecution could hope to disprove Shelby’s self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt.

Frankly, the whole matter strikes me as legally very straightforward, with an acquittal all but a certainty if a reasonable jury is empaneled.

Of course, we immediately followed those statements with:

Of course, all of the jurors know they will eventually be returning to their communities after Shelby’s trial, and an acquittal in Oklahoma can only mean that each and every one of the jurors voted for a verdict of not guilty.

And sure enough, immediately after the verdict was announced protestors gathered outside the courthouse, according to a report by CNN, calling for Officer Shelby to be presented to them: “Bring her out! No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

It seems likely that the jurors’ fears of just such protests is what led them to ask the judge if they could collectively make a public statement to accompany their verdict.  This request was denied by trial Judge Doug Drummond, but he informed them they were free to make individual statements after they had been discharged from the jury.

In any case, I’ll add this case to the “outcome correctly predicted by Attorney Andrew Branca” side of the ledger.

–-Andrew

Andrew F. Branca is an attorney and the author of The Law of Self Defense, 3rd Edition, and a host on The Outdoor Channel’s TV show, The Best Defense.

[*] This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the time of day at which the relevant events took place. 

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Comments

Outside the bad prosecution (this is a HUGE civil settlement, not a crime), the real problem is that we insist women are equal to all tasks faced by men, and we also insist both men and women who apply for police work are not vetted along the line of having “steel” in a crisis situation.

This is very much like the police officer shooting the black man who was reaching for his wallet in his car, AFTER being told to do just that. He hit the guy in the hip. The black guy asked “Why did you do that?” The officer answered “I don’t know.”

As a long time cop I know. It is training, training, training and personnel choices. Society is dangerous to police, the underbelly we deal with daily is very dangerous to us. So training is needed, but we need to remember not everyone is a threat. We need to retain mental control of the situation as it goes south. If not, people get shot.

We hired a couple of people when I was on the job that just should have never been near a gun or a badge. One quit outright- a liberal man from California who thought he could “teach us how to do the job right”. He quit when a mad husband in a DV complaint stuck a gun in his face. The next day he didn’t come into work. When called, he said he- and I kid you not- “needed a day of reflection.” He came to the conclusion in his liberal mind that we were all “crazy MF’s” for going to work every day. My Sgt took his stuff right then and came back to the department.

The other- a female we called “princess” because of her upper crust background- took a long time to adjust to her job. A ….long…time! She became a detective and does a great job because she is off the streets and can use her mind to solve crime. Not everyone should be on the street, and not everyone should be allowed to carry a gun.

On the note she can “get back to her life” ask Darren Wilson, and George Zimmerman how that works out for innocent people accused by BLMs.

    I’m not a cop nor a military veteran. But I do have gun training, including for tactical hand gun. I believe everyone, even those who hate guns, should get hand gun training. It familiarizes you with how difficult it is to shoot a moving target. You don’t have to “do what I say!” Understanding why running is usually the best strategy when someone puts a gun to your face might save your life one day. Cops run into situations. Ordinary citizens are staying or getting out of situations. Big difference. It also makes you think seriously whether you could pull the trigger if you had to or would hesitate.

    I personally believe that responsible people should own guns if for no other reason than to inflate the statistics that serve as the primary deterrent to violence. No one even needs to know that you own a gun. If you don’t think you could pull the trigger, keep it locked up where no one can get to it. If you can’t pull the trigger, you shouldn’t be waving a gun around at anybody in any situation.

    TX-rifraph in reply to archer52. | May 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    “Not everyone should be on the street”

    That is a great point. A street cop needs special skills a detective does not normally need: The ability to be proactive (maintain control) regardless of how dangerous or unpredictable the situation and to make a decision in a fraction of a second that will be scrutinized in detail by many people at a later time.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to TX-rifraph. | May 18, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      I would point out that you are unfairly judging this woman’s abilities, you don’t maintain control of a situation when the person is on PCP, you mitigate the damage as much as possible and you hope you don’t have to kill them.

        TX-rifraph in reply to Gremlin1974. | May 18, 2017 at 7:40 pm

        I should have been more clear. I am not judging her. I was attempting to make a general point that some cops/people are better in those circumstances than others. Selection and training are not perfect and we often work with a sample size of one incident. I have experienced violent people on PCP and she had to make a call “in real time.” In those circumstances, things do not always work out as you would have preferred and a different outcome could result from the smallest change in the circumstances. For example, Crutcher could have stopped or even have paused and we would not be aware of his existence.

    Tom Servo in reply to archer52. | May 18, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Agree with you completely! Although I’m not a police officer, I work in the legal system and have always counted a number of officers as my friends, and you could say I come from a pretty military-oriented family. (lots and lots of veterans at all of our reunions) And, I hold a CCP and know from experience that personally, I know how to handle myself well in tense situations, especially those involving physical danger.

    What I’ve observed over the years is that while there are many people who can do this well (soldiers in battle, for example, are facing physical danger every minute) there are also a number of people who have what is best called a mental collapse when confronted with true physical danger. I would say more women than men, since women know they’re usually going to be in trouble in a physical confrontation, but not always. I’ve known otherwise strong men who fall apart and run if they confront the thought that “this might be it for you”, and conversely, there are men who may not appear that strong who will stand in the same place and said “okay, I gotta deal with this, and I will.” And they do.

    As far as I can tell, you can never really tell which type someone will be until they’re actually in that situation – the world is full of people who talk a big game, and they believe they can do anything. But I think the old soldiers used to say, you only find out who someone truly is when they’re under fire It always comes out then.

    This type of person should never, ever be put in a combat, or combat-similar situation. They’ll either run or they’ll pull the trigger at the very first thing that frightens them, with tragic results.

      Sorry for the “down” vote. Again, I was hitting “reply”. They should move the reply link away from the down link.

      Anyway, I assume you are talking about LEO’s exclusively. It’s there job to walk into situations so they don’t have the option of running away. The rest of us do and it is very often the best choice. You should stand your ground only when that is the only choice or when you are at home and have been invaded or you come home to a dire situation that can’t wait for the police to arrive.

      I have good reason to believe that I would stand and fight if I had to but I don’t know for sure. Hesitating can often get you killed. That’s why they stress situational awareness and being intimately familiar with the law. When in doubt, shoot and survive.

        Gremlin1974 in reply to Pasadena Phil. | May 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm

        Any credible instructor will tell you, that just because you can Stand your Ground doesn’t mean you should (i.e. always retreat if you can safely). Even in a STG state if you are seen trying to retreat it can only help your narrative of self defense, imho.

        Tom Servo in reply to Pasadena Phil. | May 18, 2017 at 4:59 pm

        I understand your point – I was thinking more broadly, in situations not just with a hostile person, but any emergency situation that involves risk. I know a man (obviously don’t think very highly of him) who was one of 4 people in a car that was in an accident and ended up on its roof. He managed to get himself out a window, and saw gas running out of the tank, figured that the car could blow up any minute. So, as soon as he gets out, he takes off down the road – when asked “what about your friends in the car?” he just said “somebody got to live to tell the tale”. As soon as he saved himself, to hell with anybody else.

        Amazingly, and with the help of a passerby who had nothing to do with the wreck, the other three were extricated before the car caught on fire. And from that day on, everyone who knew that guy never forgot what kind of worthless creature he was underneath the surface.

          Gremlin1974 in reply to Tom Servo. | May 18, 2017 at 10:25 pm

          Yea, but that goes beyond cowardice, cowardice I can understand, what you describe is just a worthless pos.

        Casey in reply to Pasadena Phil. | May 23, 2017 at 7:56 pm

        I was going to suggest clicking on down-vote again (which works on Disqus) or clicking on up-vote, but those don’t seem to work. Just wanted to explain the down-vote. Yo siento.

    Mac45 in reply to archer52. | May 18, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Not everyone is suited for police work. That is why LEOs endure several hours of psychological testing, stress academy training, A significant period of supervised field training and supervision by line supervisors, until that person proves that they can be trusted to perform acceptably. They are also subjected to ongoing in-service training to continue and augment their performance. This tends to weed out a lot of those unfit for the job.

    As to the skills needed by a road patrol officer as opposed to a detective, you have it backwards. A detective needs all of the skills of the road patrol officer as well as specialized investigative skills.

    And, there is no such thing as “proactive” police work. This is a stupid term that was made up to justify aggressive investigation. All lawful police action is REACTIVE. No LEO, in this entire nation, has the authority to interfere in the activities of a member of the public, unless the officer possesses sufficient reasonable, articuable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a person is engaged in a violation of the law. The only exception to that is when a person displays unusual or erratic behavior which provides articuable suspicion that the person may be a danger to himself or others.

    Maintaining control of a situation is known a dominance. One dominates a situation or another person and controls it.

    Just some clarification.

    Women can make great cops — not affirmative action women, but women with the intelligence and personality to deal with issues on the street.

    But we all know what affirmative action brings about: just look at the two unqualified malignant weasels that were recently moved out of the White House.

Almost every one of these shootings can be prevented. Just do what the cop tells you to do. Then you can live to fight in court another day.

It will be interesting to see how the Journolists (or whatever their little creepy cabal is called these days) prioritize this on the Social Justice Outrage Meter. Given that they smell blood in the water with respect to Trump, I suspect this one isn’t going to blow up like Ferguson, Baltimore, et al.

    clintack in reply to Paul. | May 18, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    She’s lucky the verdict came in on a The-Russians-Are-Coming week. If it had been a White Supremacists week, you can be sure this would be leading the news tonight.

      I expect the MSM would bury this one regardless.

      The key reason: a 12-person jury which included three black jurors voted unanimously to acquit.

      The identity politics narrative went off the rails at that point. If even black jurors (who of course would only vote to convict based entirely on race, right? [/sarcasm]) vote to acquit a white officer in the shooting death of a black man, then the whole story is clearly a giant nothing-burger.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Paul. | May 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    This one will be ignored. To give it any airtime would harm their narrative and make it obvious that this was a politically motivated prosecution that should have been halted with the release of the PCP test.

There are two big problems evidenced by many people when looking at police shootings.

The first is that they want to look at the situation frame-by-frame, rather than at full speed. The second is that most people have no training or experience in LE, nor have they ever been attacked with a deadly weapon. Things happen quickly.

In this case, you have a man who is behaving erratically, refusing to communicate with the LEO and ignoring all of her lawful commands. He then reaches inside his vehicle, the contents of which are not visible to the LEOs. What happens if he pulls out an assault rifle, points it at the LEO and pulls the trigger multiple times? Can the LEOs stop him in the 1/2 second between the time they identify the weapon and when he begins shooting? Will the pistol bullets stop him from shooting? The answers to those two questions are; probably not. So, in the case of a subject who is behaving in a manner which is highly unusual and could be highly dangerous, to actually wait for the subject to produce a deadly weapon and direct it toward the LEO will, more than likely result in the serious injury or death of the LEO; and possibly others. And, things happen quickly in real life.

    to actually wait for the subject to produce a deadly weapon and direct it toward the LEO will, more than likely result in the serious injury or death of the LEO; and possibly others.

    As frequently-cited use-of-force expert Massad Ayoob says, “If you wait to see the gun, you’re going to see what comes out of the gun.”

    We expect a lot from our police officers and that expectation necessarily includes some risks, but I don’t expect them to take unnecessary risks with their lives.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Mac45. | May 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I would also add to your first paragraph that they also get to look at it from above not on the ground. Looking at things is gestalt is not the same as the tunnel vision you have in a stressful situation.

    mariner in reply to Mac45. | May 19, 2017 at 12:26 am

    I watched a dashcam video in which an officer kept telling a suspect to stop but he didn’t stop.

    Instead he returned to his car, reached into it, pulled out a rifle and killed the officer.

    The officer just couldn’t convince himself it was time to pull the trigger, and he died.

    I’m glad Officer Shelby made a better decision.

      Yeah, I saw that one. (Oklahoma?) Everybody is a Monday Morning Quarterback and quick to judge.

      Personally, these towns settle too quickly. How much did Trayvon Martin’s family get? For their son assaulting George Zimmerman?

Good people returning good verdicts.

Toldja…

Hopefully there will be peace in Tulsa.

Justice was done.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to 3525Tex. | May 18, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Ohh, I wouldn’t expect them to get to rowdy, I have a feeling Okies won’t take that quite as well as the pinheads in Baltimore.

    Liz in reply to 3525Tex. | May 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Currently, Oklahomans are watching the sky. NWS is labeling it a PDS or potentially dangerous situation for western OK, but it is expected to be in central (OKC) by 3-4pm and Eastern OK (Tulsa) later tonight.

    A lot of schools are letting parents pick kids up early as well as cancelling after school activities. The weather will probably impact any immediate protest activity.

I’d be interested in the jury’s statement.

As it stands, this acquittal looks like an intellectual perversion. I’ve already written about why, and won’t repeat it, but nothing I’ve read subsequently has changed this conclusion.

But I wasn’t at the trial; perhaps the jurors can add something useful which might justify their decision.

Just as a calibration point—I’m about as pro-gun as an American can get. I design guns, I collect them, I buy them by the truckload at auctions, I repair them. I even write about them, and, by virtue of an encyclopedic website I wrote and still maintain, am an internationally-known authority on a particular early auto pistol. I have no problem at all with guns. I’m also essentially uncompromising when it comes to competent gun handling and personal and public safety. In other words, I don’t have any problem with guns, but I do have problems with some institutions and with people who abuse guns and gun rights. And, for rather obvious reasons which seem to evade some people, I consider this defendant a disgrace to the police (an opinion I’m not particularly qualified to hold, as I have no unusually strong relationship with any police force) and as an American (about which my qualifications to have an opinion are well-founded).

Perhaps if we simply drop the fiction that lethal weapons in the hands of the police have anything to do with personal self-defense, that would at least strike a blow for honesty in government policy, and that’s always worth something.

Meanwhile, the race baiters, BlackLivesMatters, Planned Parenthood, Code Pink supporters go batsh*t crazy over the verdict. They will blame the Russians for interfering in the injustice system.

smalltownoklahoman | May 18, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Thank you Andrew for covering this. Myself, I’m happy to see this verdict reached as I believed Officer Shelby acted as she was supposed to, trained to, in this situation. If we’re going to start throwing officers in jail for responding to situations as they have been trained to do then something has seriously gone wrong with our society!

Thanks for following this case so closely. I was gratified to see Officer Shelby’s acquittal. That said, I offer what I hope you will take as a constructive criticism of your post.

You get one of your essential facts so wrong it hurts the credibility of the remainder of the post. Early in the post you say “The essential facts of the case are that Officer Shelby came upon a non-compliant Crutcher stumbling around a roadway in the middle of the night after having apparently abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the road.”

This shooting did not occur “in the middle of the night”. The time stamp on the video screen cap is 19:43:56 (that’s 7:43 pm ICYDKT). The scene looks like evening; the helicopter footage is clear as a bell – no spotlight. On 9/16/16 sunset in Tulsa was at 7:28 pm (thanks Google).

This would be a completely different case had it occurred in the middle of the night with everything illuminated only by headlights, a flashlight and maybe a streetlight or two. Crutcher could not miss seeing who was approaching him yet he continued to ignore directions.

    I’ve updated the post to more accurately reflect the time of day at which the relevant events took place.

    I fail to see how the particular time “hurts the credibility of the remainder of the post,” however. The substantive facts remain the same: Crutcher was utterly non-compliant with lawful orders and conducted himself in a threatening manner, even when taken at gunpoint. He got himself shot as a result. Period.

    –Andrew

Maybe they’ll tar and feather Granny McConnell.

We can only hope.

All I meant was that when I’m reading the NYT, judicial opinion, brief or just about any fact based piece and come across an element which I know to be completely inaccurate beyond any doubt, my inherent skeptisim leads me to question whether I can believe anything the author says. I guess it’s a type of reverse confirmation bias – if a writer is asserting x, which is clearly untrue, why should I believe the writer when he says y or z?

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