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Tulsa officer who fatally shot Terrence Crutcher charged with first-degree manslaughter

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Peter Holley, The Washington Post

The white Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer captured on video fatally shooting an unarmed black man on a city street will face first-degree manslaughter charges, according to news reports.

District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed the charges against officer Betty Shelby on Thursday, a full six days after multiple cameras showed her shooting 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher as he stood beside his stalled sport-utility vehicle. Moments earlier, cameras had captured Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his hands in the air.

“In the matter of the death of Terence Crutcher, I determine that the filing of the felony crime of manslaughter in the first degree against the Tulsa Police officer Betty Shelby is warranted,” Kunzweiler said.

Video shows Crutcher walking toward his vehicle with his hands above his head while several officers follow closely behind him with weapons raised. He lingers at his vehicle’s driver’s side window, his body facing the SUV, before slumping to the ground a second later.

“Shots fired!” a female voice can be heard yelling.

Tulsa police say Crutcher did not have a gun on him or in his vehicle.

After Crutcher is hit, footage shows his limp body lying on the roadway beside his vehicle. Officers appear to wait more than 2½ minutes before approaching Crutcher while he bleeds in the street.

The footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot that killed Crutcher. Her attorney has said Crutcher was not following police commands and that Shelby opened fire when the man began to reach into his SUV window.

Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, told the Tulsa World that Shelby opened fire and another officer used a stun gun when Crutcher’s “left hand goes through the car window.”

Attorney Scott Wood, who is representing Shelby, told the Tulsa World that when his client arrived at the scene, several minutes before the camera footage begins, she found Crutcher’s vehicle in the middle of the road with the engine on and the doors open. Shelby, he said, wasn’t “really sure what [was] going on,” Wood said.

Shelby thought Crutcher was behaving like someone under the possible influence of PCP, Wood told the World, noting that Crutcher ignored the officer’s commands to stop reaching into his pockets. Shelby feared Crutcher might have a gun in his pocket, because people carrying weapons repeatedly touch their pockets to confirm the weapon is still there, Wood added.

Shelby, he said, had already checked the driver’s side of the SUV when Crutcher approached her from the east. At that point, the attorney said, a backup officer arrived and drew his stun gun. Wood said the stun gun and service weapon were fired simultaneously.

Police told the Associated Press that Shelby had a stun gun but did not use it.

A warrant has been issued for Shelby’s arrest, Kunzweiler said Thursday, and arrangements were being made with her lawyer for her surrender to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department. Shelby, who was hired in 2011, had been placed on administrative leave with pay.

In recent days, Crutcher’s family members have called for charges to be filed against Shelby, and lawyers representing the family have disputed claims that Crutcher reached into his vehicle moments before Shelby shot him.

“He was my compassionate son,” Crutcher’s mother, Leanna, said in an interview with CNN on Facebook Live. “No one could ever do anything that would turn him away from being their friend. He loved people.”

“That big, bad dude mattered,” added Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany.

The Crutchers described their deceased relative as a devoted Christian and loving father to his three daughters, ages 15, 15 and 12, as well as his one son, who is 4.

“Terence said he was going to make it big as a gospel singer,” his father told CNN.

“We want this officer to be charged with first-degree murder, premeditated murder,” he added.

The family’s statements arrived a day after a police official told the Tulsa World that officers discovered PCP in Crutcher’s vehicle.

Tulsa homicide Sgt. Dave Walker declined to say where the drug was found in the vehicle or if investigators had confirmed whether Crutcher was intoxicated during his interaction with police.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing the Crutcher family, said reports linking Crutcher to drugs were an attempt to “intellectually justify” Crutcher’s death.

“If we started to condemn everybody to death who had drugs in their system, all of our neighborhoods would be affected,” he said Tuesday, calling on Tulsa police to be transparent so the public knows that authorities are “not trying to cover this up or sweep it under the rug.”

Crutcher’s death, already one of the nation’s dominant news stories, gained an even higher profile after police shot and killed a black man in Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon, sparking violent protests overnight.

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