Contentious trial ends with acquittal of embattled Tulsa police officer

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A woman cries following the acquittal of Betty Shelby. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

“Miss Shelby, you are free to go.”

It took less than five seconds for embattled Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby to leave the courtroom Wednesday night after Tulsa County District Judge Doug Drummond uttered those words.

And like that, the woman who has dominated the city’s headlines for the last eight months was gone. Neither she nor her attorneys spoke to reporters following the verdict, nor did they issue a statement.

Maybe they didn’t need to — the jurors spoke loudly enough.

The group of 12 — eight men, four women — deliberated for nine hours before acquitting Shelby of manslaughter for killing Terence Crutcher last September.

Crutcher was unarmed, but video showed he was not complying with Shelby’s commands to stop moving. An autopsy report later found PCP in his system. Had she been found guilty, Shelby could have faced life in prison.

It’s unknown what swayed the jurors, but perhaps more information will be available in the coming days. Jurors sent a note to Drummond after about six hours of deliberating, asking the judge if they could make a statement to explain their verdict.

Drummond said no, and the the jury deliberated for another three hours before announcing its verdict.

Betty Shelby leaves the courtroom during her trial for first-degree manslaughter. She was acquitted on Wednesday. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

When the verdict was read, Shelby quickly rose alongside her attorneys and exited out the door that led to the judge’s chambers. Deputies working courthouse security brought tissues to tearful jurors as the courtroom emptied.

The charge against Shelby was the most significant criminal charge against a Tulsa law enforcement officer in relation to an on-duty killing in recent memory.

It’s unclear what the acquittal means for the fractured relationship between police and District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. He was criticized by the local Fraternal Order of Police throughout the trial, and local police officers were seen in the courtroom supporting Shelby throughout the last eight days.

In a statement, Kunzweiler said he commended “these jurors for their courage to step into a courtroom, give up their own precious time, and dedicate themselves to upholding the rule of law.”

In a video, Tulsa Police Department Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Jerad Lindsey said “this is not a celebratory moment.”

“We’re very glad for our member that she’s been vindicated. That’s something we’ve believed from the very beginning was going to happen,” he said. “But there’s still a family that’s been greatly affected, and that’s the Crutchers … just because our member here has been found to be not guilty, it in no way diminishes our heartfelt sympathy to that family.”

He also seemed to comment briefly on the relationship between police and Kunzweiler, whose job as DA requires him to have a close relationship with law enforcement. In the days before trial, Lindsey filed an ethics complaint against Kunzweiler, saying he filed charges against Shelby without evidence.

“Some more things came out of this trial that were very troubling,” Lindsey said. “These are issues we’ll have to deal with going forward.”

As for Shelby, Lindsey, who attended most of the trial, said he didn’t know what her future held.

“I would hope after what she’s went through for the last few weeks that she’ll take a long rest,” he said. “Because she’s earned it.”

‘Betty Shelby got away with murder’
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Crutcher’s family filled a hallway on the eighth floor of the courthouse to talk with media. About 20 people, many with tears in their eyes, stood behind Crutcher’s father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, and Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, as they spoke about what they believed to be injustice.

“I have four grandchildren that are at home now that have lost their daddy,” Joey Crutcher said. “I said that I would accept whatever the verdict was, and I’m going to do that.

“But let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder, and I don’t know what the mind of that jury, how they could come to that conclusion.”

Following Joey Crutcher, family members chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” before Tiffany Crutcher called the verdict a “tough pill to swallow.”

“The facts were there. All of the elements of manslaughter was there,” she said. “Terence’s hands were up. Terence was not an imminent threat. Terence did not attack her. Terence did not charge at her.

“Terence was not the aggressor. Betty Shelby was the aggressor. Betty Shelby had the gun. Betty Shelby was following him when he had his hands up. Betty Shelby murdered my brother.”

Instead of going to comfort her brother after he was shot, officers on the scene went to comfort Shelby, Tiffany Crutcher said.

“And I’m going to make sure that I don’t rest until we get reform for this Police Department in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” she said. “Until we change the culture of this corrupt Police Department. And I believe that all of those officers involved, they’re going to be held accountable because this family right here, we believe in a higher power.”

Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney for the Crutcher family, said he believed the District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case well, despite defense attorneys’ attempts to make it seem as if Shelby was the victim in the shooting.

“It was Terence that was killed in the street,” Solomon-Simmons said. “And one thing that we are thankful for on this night of injustice is that so much of what TPD has done in this case has been exposed to this court of law.”

Benjamin Crump, another attorney for the Crutchers, compared the outcome of the case to those of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Md.

“The list just goes on and on of unarmed African-American men being killed by white police officers and they get away with it,” Crump said. “I really thought with the incredible job that the district attorney did in showing the lies and the cover-up of this investigation that Tulsa will be the example that said all American citizens are granted their due process of the law.

“And it doesn’t matter if you are a young, African-American man. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

Crump has also represented families in several high-profile cases, including relatives of Trayvon Martin, Brown and Tamir Rice.

After Crutcher’s family spoke, Kunzweiler said despite the outcome, he felt fortunate the jurors were able to come to a decision and believed they carried out their duties.

“The true reality is, we all know it was a difficult case,” Kunzweiler said. “We know it impacts our community, and yet, here we are. We are moving forward.”

Kunzweiler said the decision to bring charges against a law enforcement officer was difficult. Shelby is the third officer Kunzweiler has charged in the last two years, he said.

“I had to make a decision, and I’m going to live with that decision the rest of my life,” he said. “I had to charge somebody who was a member of the law enforcement community, and I knew what could be the consequences for that.

“But this is the type of case that had to be tried by a jury.”

Kunzweiler acknowledged the backlash he received for bringing charges against Shelby and the FOP ethics complaint that followed.

“I know who I am,” he said. “I know what I stand for, and I’m just going to continue to do the job I got hired to do in this instance.”

As the verdict was read, many jurors cried. But over nine hours of deliberation, they struggled with the verdict, just as anyone would, Kunzweiler said.

“So it wouldn’t surprise me that there would be emotion attached to it,” he said. “We saddled these people with the awesome responsibility, and my thanks go out to them because they sacrificed for all of us.”

Asked whether he believed justice was served Wednesday night, Kunzweiler said, “Sure.”

“We had a cross-section of our community,” he said. “We had African-Americans on this jury, we had white people on this jury. We had men, we had women.

“What more can you ask for than to have a cross-section of the community who gets to listen to and see the exact same evidence that I got to see and make a determination?”

Community leaders react
Vanessa Hall-Harper is the only black City Councilor and represents the district where the shooting occurred. She went to the courthouse Wednesday night to await the verdict.

“On behalf of the Crutcher family and my community, I understand the pain, hurt and disappointment in the outcome of this case,” an emotional Hall-Harper said. “But we must remain steadfast and vigilant to make sure that we stay in the fight for community policing and equity in our justice system. And my prayers are with the community and with the Crutcher family.”

Another leader in the local African-American community, state Rep. Regina Goodwin, said she was not surprised by the verdict.

“This is par for the course, and our history shows us oftentimes this is the way these cases go,” she said. “When there is an officer who is involved in the shooting, oftentimes they are found not guilty.”

Goodwin said there continues to be inequity in the justice system and that city leaders should not misread the community’s reaction to the verdict.

“For anyone that mistakes quiet in this town as if we have great relations (with the police), I think they are sadly mistaken,” she said. “And I think we have a long way to go when it comes to the community really trusting in the justice system.”

Goodwin said the Shelby case was a repeat of what has been happening in America throughout its history — a disproportionate number of verdicts going in law enforcement’s favor.

“And oftentimes, when there is a white officer involved and there is a black victim, this is the result,” she said.

She added: “We have a long way to go before people can come to expect justice, (they) don’t even expect justice. That is a tragic spot to be in when you don’t expect justice. You sit around and you might hope for it, but you don’t expect it.”

Late Wednesday night, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum issued the following statement:

“After considering days of testimony and undergoing its own deliberation, the jury has spoken. I appreciate the jurors’ service to our community and respect their verdict. But this verdict does not alter the course on which we are adamantly set. It does not change our recognition of the racial disparities that have afflicted Tulsa historically. It does not change our work to institute community policing measures that empower citizens to work side by side with police officers in making our community safer. And no one has been calling for the resources to implement community policing more actively over a longer period of time than the men and women of our Tulsa Police Department. So we are moving forward together – Tulsans from all parts of the city, police officers and everyday citizens – with a unified purpose to make this a better place for all of us.”

Gov. Mary Fallin also issued a statement following the verdict.

“I ask Oklahomans to respect our criminal justice system and especially the jurors, who heard the evidence from both sides in this case. Those who disagree with the verdict have the right to express their opinions; I just ask that they do so in a peaceful manner. I appeal to Tulsans and others to remain calm. Our thoughts and prayers should be with the Terence Crutcher and Betty Shelby families during this difficult time.”

After the verdict
Immediately after Shelby was acquitted, emotions were high and at least one standoff between sheriff’s deputies and protesters took place near a courthouse parking lot.

At least 30 protesters stood on the steps that led to the area where deputies park, and they were met by about a dozen armed deputies. The two sides were face to face for several minutes, before the deputies disengaged and walked away.

Elsewhere, groups chanted in front of the courthouse and eventually blocked traffic on Denver Avenue near the courthouse. Police responded and threatened to deploy tear gas on the protesters, but later backed off.

Prior to the march, several angry spectators took to the courthouse plaza. One woman, who was eventually led away by family members, screamed, “I hate this city,” and “Where are you?” chiding what she later said was a lack of anger by people she said should be angry.

Mareo Johnson, who attended most of the trial on behalf of the local Black Lives Matter group, said “talking isn’t working,” after the verdict.

“We see that police aren’t going to police the police,” he said. “So we have to come together and show that we’re going to police them. We’ve got to come together as the people, because when the people come together, the people got the power.”

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan is a news junkie, fantasy sports advocate and QuikTrip addict. When he's not refreshing Twitter, setting too many fantasy lineups or munching on a taquito, he spends his time covering crime and social issues in Tulsa and around the state. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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