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What we know about Betty Shelby, the Tulsa officer who shot Terence Crutcher

TULSA -- The history of the white Tulsa police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man after responding to a stalled car is emerging as her actions come under national scrutiny.

Officer Betty Shelby “reacted unreasonably” when she fatally shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on Sept. 16, prosecutors wrote in an affidavit filed Thursday. Police quickly provided videos of the shooting and on Thursday a district attorney announced first-degree manslaughter charges against Shelby.

Tulsa police officer charged after fatal shooting 04:32

Dashcam and aerial footage of the shooting and its aftermath showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his arms in the air. 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.

But Crutcher’s family immediately discounted that claim, saying the father of four posed no threat to the officers and couldn’t have been reaching into the car because the window was rolled up. Police said Crutcher did not have a gun on him or in his vehicle.

Shelby, who has worked with the Tulsa Police Department since 2011, has told investigators​ she was in fear for her life when she opened fire. According to the Tulsa World,​ before her employment in the police department, Shelby was hired in June 2007 by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

According to documents released by the sheriff’s office, Shelby, 42, was mentioned in a November 2010 use of force report when she was among a group of officers who entered a home with guns drawn in an attempt to serve a felony warrant. The suspect had tried to hide from deputies, the report says.

The Tulsa Police Department has said she has not had any disciplinary action resulting in suspension or loss of pay.

In 2009, Shelby reportedly became the department’s first female member of the office’s underwater investigation unit, which conducts evidence recovery and some water rescues.

In an application document for the sheriff’s office, Shelby detailed several earlier domestic incidents and admitted she had tried marijuana on “one two separate occasions at social gatherings” when she was 18.

Shelby wrote she argued with her former boyfriend as they were ending the relationship in 1993. The ex-boyfriend damaged her car by hitting it with a shovel, and she wrote she “returned the same damage to his vehicle in the same manner.”

She said she filed an emergency ex-parte the next morning with a Creek County judge, and learned that the former boyfriend has also filed against her. Both later asked the judge for a dismissal.

Shelby also described a custody battle over her children with her former husband beginning in 2000. Just before a final court hearing in 2002, she said, her ex-husband’s new wife filed a protective order against her in Le Flore County, claiming Shelby had made harassing phone calls to her home. Shelby wrote the order was “an attempt to discredit my character” and said she produced phone records that proved she didn’t make the calls, and a judge later  denied the request for the protective order.

Before Shelby began her career in law enforcement, the paper reports, she had a six-month stint in the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 2000 and was discharged after she sprained her knee in basic training.

A 2004 Tulsa World article described her participating in a Tulsa “Pro America Rally” during which she led the Pledge of Allegiance and spoke about her husband, David Shelby, who was serving in the Army and deployed to Iraq.

Protests and outrage after Tulsa officer shoots unarmed man 02:47

The World reports that David Shelby,​ now also a Tulsa police officer, was one of the officers in a police helicopter that captured aerial footage of Crutcher’s shooting. In audio files released by the department, someone in the helicopter can be heard saying Crutcher “looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.”

Officer Jeanne MacKenzie identified another officer in the helicopter to the World as Michael Richert. Sgt. Shane Tuell told the paper the officer who spoke wasn’t David Shelby, but couldn’t confirm who spoke.

Betty Shelby was en route to a domestic violence call when she encountered Crutcher’s vehicle abandoned on a city street, straddling the center line. She did not activate her patrol car’s dashboard camera, so no footage exists of what first happened between the two before other officers arrived.

The affidavit filed Thursday indicates that Shelby “cleared the driver’s side front” of Crutcher’s empty vehicle before she began interacting with him, suggesting she may have known there was no gun on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

That’s when she encountered Crutcher, who was walking towards her, and asked him if the car belonged to him and if it was disabled. Crutcher was mumbling to himself and wouldn’t answer Shelby’s questions, the document says.

Crutcher kept putting his hands in his pockets, and Shelby ordered him to show his hands, police say in the affidavit. Crutcher then began walking away towards the vehicle with his hands in the air, not responding to Shelby’s orders to stop, the document says.

At that point, Shelby pulled out her service weapon and followed Crutcher to the vehicle. She pointed it at him, and another officer arrived and told Shelby he had his Taser ready, according to the affidavit.

That’s when, according to the affidavit, Crutcher reached into the driver’s side front window, and the officer fired his Taser and Shelby fired her weapon, striking Crutcher.

The police footage shows Crutcher approaching the driver’s side of the SUV, then more officers walk up and Crutcher appears to lower his hands and place them on the vehicle.

The officers surround Crutcher and he suddenly drops to the ground. A voice heard on police radio says: “Shots fired!” The officers back away and Crutcher is left unattended on the street for about two minutes before an officer puts on medical gloves and begins to attend to him.  

According to the affidavit, Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher.” Though the investigator said Crutcher wasn’t responding to verbal commands, he said Shelby ”became emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted.”

Though Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Shelby didn’t see any weapons or bulges indicating he might have a weapon, the investigator wrote.

A still image captured from an aerial video from the Tulsa Police Department shows Terence Crutcher after being shot during a police shooting incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sept. 16, 2016.
A still image captured from an aerial video from the Tulsa Police Department shows Terence Crutcher after being shot during a police shooting incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sept. 16, 2016. Tulsa Police Department/Handout via Reuters

Following widespread public outcry in the wake of the shooting, Shelby left Tulsa because she was receiving death threats, her lawyer, Scott Wood, told CBS affiliate KOTV.

Shelby later returned to surrender to authorities.  She was booked in the Tulsa County jail at 1:11 a.m. Friday and released 20 minutes later after posting $50,000 bond, according to jail records.

Wood told the station Shelby is a drug recognition expert and and believed Crutcher was under the influence of something, possibly PCP, the night she encountered him. Tulsa police say they found a vial of liquid PCP in Crutcher’s SUV after the shooting.

Wood said he felt the DA was under pressure from the community to charge his client.

“[The charge] carries a degree of intent, a degree of recklessness, and that’s not Betty Shelby,” Woods told the station. “Ask anyone, anyone who has worked with her. That’s not Betty Shelby.”

But speaking Thursday, Crutcher’s twin sister Tiffany Crutcher called Shelby’s actions “reprehensible.” She said her family is “preparing to go to war” and will push for a conviction.

“While we are pleased to learn the officer who senselessly killed by beloved twin brother will face criminal charges for her reckless act, we understand nothing will bring him back,” Crutcher said

If convicted, Shelby faces between four years and life in prison. The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into Crutcher’s death.

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