Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter in the first degree, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told reporters Thursday. Shelby fatally shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher after his SUV broke down last week.
From different angles, the videos show the same scene.
An unarmed black man walks on a Tulsa, Oklahoma, road with his hands in the air. Police officers follow closely behind him as he approaches his vehicle. He stands beside the car, then falls to the ground after one officer pulls the trigger.
Now 40-year-old Terence Crutcher is dead. Crutcher’s sister is demanding that prosecutors charge the officer who shot him. And the police videos of the incident are fueling criticism about the case.
Federal, state and local authorities are investigating the Friday night shooting.
Crutcher’s family says he was waiting for help on the road after his SUV broke down.
The officer’s attorney says she was afraid Crutcher was reaching for a weapon when she opened fire. Attorney Benjamin Crump, part of the legal team representing Crutcher’s family, countered at a Tuesday news conference that Crutcher’s window was rolled up, making it unlikely he was reaching into the car.
911 call reported man running from vehicle
Two 911 calls brought officers to the scene about 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The first came from a woman who said an abandoned vehicle was blocking the street and a man was running away, warning that it was going to blow up.
“Somebody left their vehicle running in the middle of the street with their doors wide open,” the caller said. “The doors are open, the vehicle is still running. It’s an SUV. It’s in the middle of the street, it’s blocking traffic.”
Officer Betty Shelby was the first to arrive, but she wasn’t responding to the 911 call, said her attorney, Scott Wood. Shelby was en route to a domestic violence call when she encountered Crutcher, who she thought might be impaired, and then the SUV in the middle of the road, Wood said.
She asked Crutcher whether the car belonged to him but got no response, the attorney said. Crutcher began walking toward her with his hands in his pockets. She politely asked Crutcher to take his hands out of his pocket while they were speaking, Wood said.
“He does comply and puts his hands out of his pocket, and then puts his hands up in the air, which she thought was a little bit strange under the circumstances,” he said.
Crutcher continued to ignore Shelby’s questions about the vehicle and at one point walks toward the back of the police cruiser and puts his hands back in his pockets, the attorney said. Shelby called dispatch and was intent on arresting him because she thought he was under the influence of something, he said.
She drew her gun and ordered Crutcher to get on his knees, which he refused to do, Wood said. He instead walked toward his car.
‘Very disturbing’ video
Videos police released Monday show some of what happened next. The footage is “very disturbing and difficult to watch,” Tulsa police Chief Chuck Jordan told reporters.
The videos show Shelby and several other officers at the scene.
Tulsa police officers also were flying above the scene in a helicopter, capturing the incident from an on-board camera. Footage from multiple police cameras show Crutcher walking toward his SUV in the middle of the road, hands raised, followed closely by Shelby and three other officers. They approach Crutcher, who continued to walk back to his car, where he appeared to move his hands toward the vehicle.
Circling above the scene, one police officer in the helicopter can be heard referring to Crutcher as a “bad dude.”
Jeanne MacKenzie, Tulsa police spokeswoman, said that the responding officers on the ground thought Crutcher had reached into the driver’s side window of the vehicle.
Moments later, as Crutcher stands beside his vehicle, the video shows him fall to the ground
“I think he may have just been Tasered,” an officer says over the radio.
“Shots fired!” a female officer says.
In the video, Crutcher lies in the middle of the street, motionless with blood on his shirt, soon to be dead.
Sister slams officer’s ‘negligence and incompetency’
At a news conference Monday, Tiffany Crutcher said she believes her twin brother Terence died because of a Tulsa police officer’s “negligence and incompetency and insensitivity.”
Just a month ago, she said, the twins had celebrated their 40th birthday. Terence, a God-loving father of four who sang at church every week, had enrolled at a community college in Tulsa, where he hoped to earn a degree, she said.
“I’m going to show you,” Terence recently texted his sister. “I’m going to make you all proud.”
Now, she said, charges should be pressed to ensure justice is served. According to his sister, that’s the least that should happen given Crutcher won’t be able to make his family proud like he had hoped.
“And because he was a big bad dude,” she said referring back to the police helicopter tape, “he’ll never get that chance.”
Officer’s attorney: There’s more to the story
Wood says there’s more to the story than the videos show.
“He had a very hollow look in his face, kind of a thousand-yard stare, so to speak, and would not communicate. And she could tell he was not normal. She thought that when she saw him,” he said.
And when the officer opened fire, according to her attorney, she thought Crutcher was retrieving a weapon from his car.
“She was yelling at him to stop, for probably at least 10 to 15 seconds. He gets to the window of the SUV, and has his hands in the air, looks at them … and his left hand goes into the window,” at which point one officer deployed his Taser and Shelby fired her service weapon. Shelby had a Taser but did not take it out, the attorney said.
Wood told CNN in a follow-up interview that his client had her gun out because she was the only officer there for a few minutes and she thought Crutcher was armed. The second officer had a Taser because the “proper tactic … in that scenario is for second person … to have less lethal (weapon),” said Wood, a former police officer.
The incident has nothing to do with race, Wood said, noting that his client suspected Crutcher was under the influence.
“People who are under the influence have unpredictable behavior, whether you are white, Hispanic, or black,” he said.
Attorney: Terrorist arrested alive, but not Crutcher?
Attorney Benjamin Crump, along with three other attorneys representing the Crutchers, held a news conference Tuesday at which they insisted the matter could have been resolved with less-than-deadly force.
“Why is an unarmed black man who has committed no crime, who only needed a helping hand, given bullets in his lung?” the lawyer asked.
Standing alongside an easel holding an enhanced screen grab of the police video, Crump said he was giving the Tulsa County district attorney and Tulsa police every opportunity to be transparent. He also urged them not to vilify Crutcher.
“How could he be reaching into the car if the window is up and there’s blood on the glass?” Crump asked, pointing to the photo on the easel. “The window is up. There’s a streak of blood on the window. It’s coming down the car door.”
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons contested Shelby’s attorney’s account, saying Crutcher was complying and made no sudden movements until he was hit with the Taser.
As for the allegations that Crutcher may have been intoxicated, Crump said it’s irrelevant. He pointed out that just Monday an alleged terrorist accused of placing bombs in New York and New Jersey and opening fire on police was taken into custody alive, yet Shelby felt she had to exact deadly force on Crutcher.
“If we started to condemn everybody to death who might have some drugs in their system, all our neighborhoods would be affected,” he said.
Tulsa police said Tuesday night that they found the drug PCP in Crutcher’s car.
David Riggs, another attorney for the Crutcher family, said earlier that if drugs were somehow involved “this is a textbook case of how not to handle someone in that situation.”
‘There was no gun’
At a news conference Monday, the police chief told reporters that Crutcher was unarmed.
“I’m going to tell you right here now: There was no gun on the suspect or in the suspect’s vehicle,” he said.
He also confirmed that Shelby had fired one shot and Officer Tyler Turnbough had deployed his Taser.
Shelby is now on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a criminal investigation. The officer joined the police force in 2011 and had worked for the county sheriff’s department for four years before that, according to her attorney, who described her record as a clean one.
Shelby was interviewed by homicide detectives for 90 minutes on Monday morning, Wood said.
In addition, both the US Department of Justice and state authorities have launched investigations into the officer-involved shooting.
Danny Williams, US Attorney of the Northern District of Oklahoma, said prosecutors will attempt to determine whether a federal civil rights violation had occurred. Authorities refused to immediately answer additional questions due to the ongoing investigation.
Jack Henderson, a Tulsa council member, said that authorities would get to the bottom of what happened Friday night. In the meantime, Henderson called for Tulsa “to remain a strong city, a together city” free of the violence and conflict seen in other cities across the US.
“We’ve already got two families’ lives who will be affected forever,” Henderson said. “We don’t need some more lives to be changed this way.”
Outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, approximately two-dozen protesters held signs and photos of Crutcher, shouting chants such as “hands up, don’t shoot!” As they walked around downtown Tulsa, they demanded further transparency as well as improved training for local police.
Pastor Mario Johnson, who said he watched the dashcam video before it was made public, believes Crutcher did not deserve to die.
“Him having his hands up, walking toward his car, he was walking away from the officers. He wasn’t posing a threat in any way,” Johnson said.
According to a Crutcher family attorney, Terence was just “having some difficulty with his vehicle and that’s it.”
Meanwhile, Shelby’s attorney insists his client had no racial motivation in shooting Crutcher. She had no idea the race of the SUV’s owner at first when she stopped to inspect it, he said.
“She didn’t see anyone, she didn’t stop because that car belonged to a black person or a Hispanic person. She stopped just to help. And within a few minutes, she had to use deadly force,” he said.