Prosecutors filed felony charges Thursday against a Tulsa police officer involved in the shooting death of an unarmed black man. The charges come less than a week after Terence Crutcher was shot Friday.
“I’ve determined that the filing of the felony crime of manslaughter in the first degree against Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby is warranted,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said during a press conference. “Officer Shelby, although now charged, is presumed to be innocent until a judge or a jury determines otherwise.”
Updated 5:43 p.m.: Crutcher family prepared for a long road ahead
Members of the Crutcher family and their attorneys called on citizens to remember Terence Crutcher as a man who loved music, and as a father who loved his four children.
Terence Crutcher’s twin sister said the family was pleased to learn Shelby would face prosecution, but they plan to stay vigilant and continue to demand accountability and transparency from law enforcement.
“The chain breaks here. We’re going to break the chains of injustice. We’re going to break the chains of police brutality,” Tiffany Crutcher told reporters. “We’re demanding full prosecution. We want a conviction, and when that happens, this is a small victory, but we know we have to get ready to fight this war.”
Damario Solomon-Simmons, one of several attorneys representing the Crutcher family, said they asked Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan and Mayor Dewey Bartlett for a fair and transparent investigation, and once they saw the video of Crutcher’s death, they knew Shelby would face charges.
“We are happy that charges were brought, but let me be clear, the family wants and deserves full justice,” Solomon-Simmons said. “And full justice requires not just charges, but a vigorous prosecution, and a conviction for those who shot and killed Terence for no reason.”
Solomon-Simmons said he hopes the outcome of the case will deter law enforcement officers from shooting unarmed citizens, but also said nothing will reverse Crutcher’s tragic death.
“At the same time the DA was identifying the charges, the family was at the funeral home preparing to bury Terence,” Solomon-Simmons said. “Never lose sight of that. Never lose sight of that in any of these cases. It’s not just about hashtags. It’s about people. It’s about the destruction of families.”
The shooting sparked protests in Tulsa after the video was released, and a rally led by civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled for Tuesday. A similar incident in Charlotte, North Carolina sparked violent protests against police officers, and Kunzweiler urged Tulsa citizens to let the legal system do its job.
“Our community has consistently demonstrated a willingness to respect the judicial process,” Kunzweiler said. “It is the shared responsibility of all who have the ability to control their reactions to do just that.”
If Shelby is convicted, she could serve anywhere from four years to life in prison. Terence Crutcher’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday evening.
Helicopter and dash cam footage showed Crutcher with his hands in the air moments before Shelby shot and killed him. Police Chief Chuck Jordan called the incident “disturbing.”
An affidavit filed in the case says Shelby responded to a domestic disturbance call Friday when she approached a vehicle in the middle of the roadway, and a pedestrian later determined to be Crutcher. Shelby approached Crutcher and asked him if the SUV blocking both lanes of the roadway was his, and whether it was disabled.
“He was mumbling to himself and would not answer any of Officer Shelby’s questions,” the affidavit states. “Mr. Crutcher kept putting his hands in his pockets and Officer Shelby kept telling him to show his hands.”
— Will DuPree (@willrdupree) September 22, 2016
Crutcher then walked toward his vehicle with his hands in the air, but still did not respond to Shelby’s commands. At that point, Shelby pulled out her weapon and followed him to the car, ordering him to stop and drop to his knees.
Tulsa Police Officer Tyler Turnbough arrived on the scene, and joined Shelby at the rear of the vehicle. Turnbough told Shelby he had his stun gun ready. The affidavit says at that point, Crutcher reached in the driver’s side window and Turnbough fired his Taser. Shelby fired one shot from her weapon, striking Crutcher near his right lung. Attorneys for Crutcher's family dispute that claim, and argue the windows of the vehicle were rolled up at the time of the shooting.
In the dash cam video, several minutes go by before first responders provide aid to Crutcher. EMSA transported Crutcher to a hospital, where he was pronounded dead at 8:19 p.m.
No weapon was found on Crutcher or in his SUV, although police did say they discovered a vial of the drug PCP in the vehicle. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett told NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday the PCP is not relevant to the investigation into Crutcher’s death.
During an interview with a TPD Homicide Detective Monday, Shelby said she feared for her life and thought Crutcher would kill her. The affidavit states Shelby reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation, became emotionally involved, and overreacted.
“Although Mr. Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Officer Shelby was not able to see any weapons or bulges indicating and [sic] weapon was present,” according to the affidavit.
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