Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer who shot and killed Terrence Crutcher, pleaded not guilty today to one count of manslaughter. She was arrested on September 23 and released on $50,000 bond. The 42-year-old officer allegedly appeared nervous today in court, and only spoke during her brief arraignment when she answered “yes” to verify her identity when the judge requested her to, according to MSN. Her attorney entered the “not guilty” plea. The judge set her court date for November 29.
The tragedy happened on September 16 when Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was stopped in the middle of the road after experiencing car trouble. When Shelby arrived on scene, reports say that she asked Crutcher to place his hands up in the air. A video from police video showed that Crutcher had at least one hand in the air, but Shelby perceived that he was reaching toward his pocket, her attorneys argue. Her attorneys say she felt her life was in danger at that point and she fired her weapon, killing Mr. Crutcher.
At the time of the shooting, other officers had arrived on the scene, and one alleges that he told Shelby that he had a Taser and planned to use it on Mr. Crutcher when he did not immediately comply by putting both hands in the air. A probable cause affidavit for Shelby’s arrest warrant was entered on that information.
Shelby’s attorneys say that she was “afraid for her life” and suffered “auditory exclusion” as a result, claiming that she did not hear or process the other officer’s words because she was so frightened. Her attorneys state that she does not recall there being other police officers on the scene of the killing. One attorney claimed that she did not even realize another police officer was standing next to her.
“He has his hands up and is facing the car and looks at Shelby, and his left hand goes through the car window, and that’s when she fired her shot.”
The video and the other officers’ accounts of the shooting caused a warrant to be issued for Shelby’s arrest. She turned herself in to police when that occurred.
Shelby is a five-year veteran of the Tulsa police force. Her husband, David Shelby, was controlling the helicopter hovering overhead Crutcher’s disabled SUV and it recorded the shooting.
Mike Wood, Shelby’s lead attorney, said that his client believed that Mr. Crutcher was behaving erratically and was under the influence of narcotics. A vial of PCP was found in Mr. Crutcher’s SUV after the shooting, according to NBC. The video camera in the helicopter recorded pilots saying that Mr. Crutcher appeared dangerous moments before Shelby shot Mr. Crutcher. They also referred to him as “the black dude.”
Shelby, who is white, did not hear those comments because she did not have communication with the helicopter, her attorneys have stated. It has not been substantiated that Shelby’s husband was one of the officers making the remarks.
No weapons were found on Mr. Crutcher’s person nor in his vehicle. Mr. Crutcher, age 40, was described by his family’s attorneys as a “church going” man who did not harm anyone.
Shelby is a drug identification expert. On her application for police employment in 2007 as a sheriff’s deputy, Shelby admitted to using marijuana at the age of 18. She was also involved in some domestic altercations with previous boyfriends in the 1990s. She worked at a convenience store before signing on to the Oklahoma Air National guard in 1999, but left that position in 2000 due to an injured knee.
If convicted of the first-degree manslaughter count, she may be sentenced to anything from four years to life in prison.
[Featured Image by Tulsa Police Department]