A jury has acquitted Tulsa police Officer Betty Jo Shelby, who killed unarmed motorist Terence Crutcher in an encounter that was captured on video by a police helicopter last September. The case in Oklahoma sparked criticisms that Shelby, who is white, overreacted when she shot Crutcher, who was black.
The verdict came hours after the jury was sent to deliberate Wednesday. It devastated members of Crutcher’s family, who say they’re outraged by the outcome. Shelby had been charged with first-degree manslaughter days after the killing.
“Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder, and I don’t know what was in the mind of that jury,” Crutcher’s father, Joseph, told reporters.
The family is also calling for the Tulsa Police Department to be reformed. During the trial, Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany, said, “it’s clear” that other officers were covering for Shelby. She also said that in the video of the shooting, the officers appeared to be more concerned for Shelby than for Crutcher, as he lay wounded.
“Prosecutors said Shelby acted out of fear when she shot Terence Crutcher on Sept. 16,” Matt Trotter of member station KWGS reports From Tulsa. “Crutcher walked away from Shelby with his hands up instead of following orders to stop and get on the ground. Shelby’s attorneys argued she believed Crutcher was going to get a gun and she had to stop that threat.”
Here’s how The Associated Press describes the scene in the courtroom last night:
“Shelby looked stone-faced when the verdict was read, but Crutcher’s family was quickly ushered out of the courtroom sobbing and wailing.
“At least four of the 12 jurors were crying as they left the courtroom and they did not look at either the family of Crutcher or Shelby. The jury comprised eight women and four men and included three African-Americans.”
The wire service quotes Defense Attorney Shannon McMurray saying Shelby is “elated” by the ruling, adding, “She’s ready to get back to her life.”
The jury’s finding prompted a demonstration outside the courthouse, with protesters chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “Not justice, no peace!” According to the Tulsa World, some of the group then marched down the street to the hotel where they believed Shelby was staying.
After the verdict was announced, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement calling for calm, saying, “Those who disagree with the verdict have the right to express their opinions; I just ask that they do so in a peaceful manner.”
It seems that’s what happened, as the protest ended shortly after midnight, according to the World.
Almost immediately after the shooting, the Justice Department started a parallel investigation into possible civil rights charges, with U.S. Attorney Danny Williams Sr. promising “to seek justice on behalf of this family, and for the public.”
The status of that investigation isn’t clear; Williams was among the dozens of U.S. attorneys who were asked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign in March.