A Tulsa police officer charged with first-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of unarmed Terence Crutcher two weeks ago pleaded not guilty Friday morning in Tulsa County District Court.
Betty Shelby, 42, remained silent in the courtroom other than answering “yes” to acknowledge her presence, and her plea was entered by attorney Shannon McMurray, who is representing Shelby along with attorney Scott Wood.
Special Judge Deborrah Ludi-Leitch ordered Shelby to return to court Nov. 29 for a preliminary hearing in front of Special Judge James Keeley. District Judge Doug Drummond is assigned to preside over the case once it gets past the preliminary stage.
Crutcher’s family members and their legal counsel filled two rows in the courtroom, where Shelby’s case was quickly handled first among a large docket of out-of-custody defendants.
Outside the courtroom where reporters are allowed to film, Shelby was seen briefly as she crossed a narrow hallway accompanied by Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
After the arraignment, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons spoke on behalf of the Crutcher family, saying the proceeding is a step toward justice for a family still grieving after burying Terence Crutcher on Monday.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed the manslaughter charge against Shelby six days after she fatally shot 40-year-old Crutcher on Sept. 16 outside his vehicle on a north Tulsa street.
Shelby surrendered with an attorney at the Tulsa Jail about 1 a.m. the next morning, according to an arrest report. She was booked into jail and then released on $50,000 bond within about half an hour, records show.
Shelby’s manslaughter charge alleges the fatal shooting was an unreasonable act committed in a “heat of passion” — based on fear resulting from Crutcher’s “non-compliant actions and behavior” — or, in the alternative, it was an unlawful and unnecessary act committed while “resisting criminal attempt” based upon Crutcher’s “refusal to comply with her lawful orders.”
In an interview with a Tulsa police detective after the shooting, Shelby stated that she had been in fear of her life and thought Crutcher was going to kill her, according to the probable cause affidavit. She told the detective she had been yelling at Crutcher, repeatedly telling him to stop and get on his knees, as she followed him toward his vehicle with her gun drawn.
The chief investigator for the District Attorney’s Office wrote in the affidavit that he feels Shelby “reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr. Crutcher, who was not responding to verbal commands and was walking away from her with his hands held up, becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.”
The investigator adds that although Crutcher was wearing baggy clothes, Shelby wasn’t able to see any weapons or bulges indicating he had a weapon.
Shelby had been driving to a domestic violence call when she saw Crutcher standing on 36th Street North near Lewis Avenue and noticed a sport utility vehicle, which turned out to be his, stopped a short distance away in the middle of the street, according to the affidavit.
Shelby stopped behind the SUV and got out of her patrol car, proceeding toward the vehicle, when she saw Crutcher walking toward her, according to the affidavit.
Shelby asked Crutcher if the vehicle was his, but he was “mumbling to himself,” wouldn’t answer any of her questions and kept putting his hands in his pockets despite her orders to show his hands, the affidavit states.
Scott Wood, one of Shelby’s attorneys, previously told the Tulsa World that Shelby, who has completed drug-recognition expert training, believed Crutcher was acting like a person who might be under the influence of PCP. Police have since said a small vial of PCP was found inside the vehicle, but whether Crutcher had any of the drug in his system remains unknown until a toxicology screen is completed and the results made public.
The affidavit says Crutcher then began walking toward the SUV with his hands raised and wasn’t responding to Shelby’s commands to stop, and she pulled her gun in the ready position and followed him to his vehicle.
That’s when police say Officer Tyler Turnbough arrived, responding to Shelby’s call for backup. Turnbough took a position next to Shelby, at the rear of the SUV, as Crutcher continued to the driver’s side front door, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says Turnbough told Shelby he had his Taser ready to deploy, but Wood has said she experienced “auditory exclusion” and never heard that comment nor realized other officers had arrived and were standing with her.
Crutcher then reached in the driver’s side front window, according to the affidavit, and Turnbough fired his Taser at almost the same time Shelby fired one gunshot, striking Crutcher in the right lung area.
Whether Crutcher lowered his left hand to reach through the window — prompting the fatal shot — is disputed by attorneys for Crutcher’s family. Crutcher was found to be unarmedand had no weapons inside the vehicle.
Shelby was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting and moved to unpaid leave after she was charged.