Tulsa cop headed to trial for fatal shooting of unarmed man

Terence Crutcher

Dash cam footage showed Terence Crutcher initially had his hands up, but later dropped them before he was shot. (Photo: Tulsa Police Department)

During a preliminary hearing Tuesday, a Tulsa County judge determined there was sufficient evidence for Officer Betty Shelby to stand trial for the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher in September.

Crutcher’s family said that while they know a trial with be a “long journey,” they are one step closer to seeing justice for Crutcher.

Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, said he was not surprised by the decision to go to trial, ABC reported.

“There’s a presumption that the state’s evidence will be stronger when presented at trial,” he said.

Before the hearing, Shelby’s daughter, Amber, in an emotional speech thanked those who have offered support and encouragement, while asking for fair and unbiased coverage from the media.

Betty Shelby

Betty Shelby, who has been with the department for five years, is charged with first-degree manslaughter. (Photo: Tulsa Police Department)

Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter for Crutcher’s death. Although the District Attorney’s Office agreed that she likely feared for her safety when she fired her service pistol, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he believed her actions were unreasonable and she became “emotionally involved” to the point over overreacting.

The incident in question unfolded Sept. 16, after Shelby responded to a call about what appeared to be an abandoned vehicle blocking the road.

When Shelby arrived on the scene, she noticed Crutcher’s SUV stopped in the middle of the road, with the engine still running and the door wide open. She also observed Crutcher walking around, rambling incoherently and refusing to talk with her, answer her questions or comply with her commands.

As other officers arrived on the scene, Crutcher continued to ignore commands but started toward his vehicle. Initially, as seen in dash cam and aerial footage, Crutcher walked to the SUV with his hands up, but as he neared the vehicle, his hands dropped to his side.

Shelby, fearing at that point he was reaching for a weapon, fired her service pistol simultaneously as another officer deployed his taser. Shelby claims she fired as Crutcher reached into his vehicle, but Crutcher’s family and legal team maintain the SUV’s windows were up the entire time.

Terence Crutcher

Terence Crutcher, who was fatally shot by a Tulsa police officer in September, poses for a picture with his twin sister. (Photo: Tulsa World)

From the beginning of the interaction with Crutcher, Shelby, who was trained in drug recognition, said she believed he was under the influence of something, possibly PCP, which can cause odd and erratic behavior, anxiety, panic and hallucinations. A search of Crutcher’s vehicle turned up a substance which was determined to be PCP, and an autopsy later revealed Crutcher had the drug in his system at the time of his death. Still, the Crutcher family attorney noted that drug use should not warrant a death sentence.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker testified Tuesday that Shelby’s account of what transpired that day was consistent with the statements given by other officers. Walker also said Shelby, as well as Tulsa Officer Tyler Turnbough, who was also on the scene, both became increasingly fearful of Crutcher. But Kunzweiler accused Shelby of “escalating the situation from a confrontation” and noted that she had no reason to believe he possessed a weapon.

Shelby is set to appear in court again on Dec. 15. If convicted, she will face a minimum of four years in prison.