It took about 15 minutes for Betty Shelby to be whisked into a courtroom Friday morning, plead not guilty, then be whisked out into a waiting SUV in a locked-down parking lot, under protection from both supporters, deputies and at least one off-duty Tulsa Police Officer.
Shelby did not enter a plea to the charge of first-degree manslaughter she faces in the Terence Crutcher killing, instead having one of her attorneys, Shannon McMurray, request the court to enter the not guilty plea on her behalf.
Special District Court Judge Deborrah Ludi-Leitch set a Nov. 29 date for Shelby’s preliminary hearing.
Shelby, 42, did not make a statement following Friday’s hearing, nor did her attorneys, McMurray and Scott Wood. Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler and Assistant district attorney Kevin Gray represented the state, but both declined statements as well.
However, Crutcher’s family attended the packed hearing along with civil attorneys they’ve hired for representation, and those attorneys held a brief interview inside the courthouse, saying they plan to be at all future hearings.
“We look forward to the next court hearing as we continue to move forward in this process,” Damario Solomon Simmons said. When asked how Crutcher’s family was doing, Simmons said: “The family just buried their son on Monday, so they’re still processing their grief.”
Shelby, who was released from custody earlier this month after posting $50,000 bail, entered the courtroom via a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office annex which sits just across the hall on the courthouse’s first floor. She exited the courtroom the same way, then minutes later emerged out of the sheriff’s office entrance into a waiting SUV in a typically open parking lot courthouse security said Friday was off-limits to the public until Shelby had left.
During her exit, Shelby was flanked by deputies, supporters and off-duty police officers who stood in a wall outside the SUV in an apparent attempt to keep the media from taking pictures and video.
Casey Roebuck, Public Information Office director for TCSO, said the increased security presence and measures were due to threats on Shelby’s life.
Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette told The Frontier in an email Friday that the tightened security measures were “based on courthouse security, not Officer Shelby.”
“We made that decision based on the national attention that this case has drawn, the influx of media as well as the number of protests and out of town individuals that have come specifically for this case,” Robinette said in the email.
“The average number of individuals in this courthouse on a daily basis is very high, specifically for those coming and going into (the arraignment courtroom) and we expected a much larger crowd due to the media attention of this case,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Office wanted to ensure “that no protests/protesters were able to cause an issue in the area of the courtroom and due to threats that have come in toward the judges and prosecution, as well as Shelby, we made the decision to do what we could to minimize exposure, stage media in specific area so that their wants could be addressed, reduce congestion in the hallway for other individuals to conduct their business without interruption and to avoid any potentially bad situations. The decision was based on courthouse security, not Officer Shelby.”
For now, Shelby remains on unpaid administrative leave, Tulsa Police Department spokesman Shane Tuell said Friday. Officers involved in fatal shootings first are placed on paid administrative leave, but are moved to unpaid leave if charged criminally.
Tuell said she will remain on unpaid leave until the completion of her criminal case.
“The best way to probably state it is that she is afforded due process criminally as well as administratively,” Tuell said.
“The big misconception is that Internal Affairs is not doing anything. By our policies, IA responds to an officer-involved shooting scene and begin working the case immediately. But it won’t come to completion until the criminal process is over. That way they are going to have all the information necessary.”
Her unpaid status prompted Patrick Stephens, TPD’s Fraternal Order of Police President, to create an online fundraiser in Shelby’s name. The fundraiser has so far garnered more than $17,000.
Stephens previously told The Frontier he started the fundraiser as a longtime friend of Shelby’s.
“It’s not an FOP thing,” he said. “People were reaching out to me — even people outside the department — were reaching out for a place to donate to Officer Shelby and the Shelby family in their time of need, so I gave them that vehicle.”
Stephens said there are no policies that prohibit Tulsa police officers from contributing to the fund.
“They are not using duty time; they’re not using city funds,” Stephens said.
The money is being raised to help Shelby pay her legal bills and other expenses, Stephens said.
“She is leave without pay right now, she has no income and she still has children to feed,” he said. “She’s still a person, she’s still presumed innocent right now and (entitled) to due process, so I don’t see why anyone would have a problem supporting someone now.”
However, a review by The Frontier last week found one officer, Dean Montgomery, who is listed on Shelby’s charging documents as a witness in the criminal case, had apparently donated to the fundraiser.
A subsequent review of the donors identified officer Jeremy Stiles, who is also on the state’s witness list, donated $50.
Kunzweiler told The Frontier last week that such donations could be “a relevant concern depending on how that officer testifies.”
“A contribution to assist a fellow officer who is accused of a crime could be a relevant concern depending upon how that officer testifies in the case,” Kunzweiler said in a statement. “At this point, it would be mere speculation to delve into the hows or whys of any person’s actions or decisions. The prosecution of this case will be based upon the facts as reported to my office and will be litigated in a courtroom – as it should be.”