Tulsa police officer’s manslaughter trial goes to jury

Tulsa police officer’s manslaughter trial goes to jury

May 17, 2017

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – An Oklahoma jury began deliberations on Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of a white Tulsa police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in an incident caught on video that stoked the debate over racial bias in U.S. policing.

Officer Betty Shelby, 43, faces at least four years to life in prison if convicted of manslaughter in the September 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher, then 40, whose car was blocking a road.

Police video of the incident seen globally on social media intensified scrutiny of the use of force by U.S. law enforcers and allegations of racial bias.

In the videos, Crutcher can be seen with his hands in the air and walking away from Shelby before he was shot. Tulsa police have said Crutcher was unarmed and there was no weapon in his vehicle.

An attorney for Shelby told the jury, which includes two black women and one black man, that Crutcher brought the incident upon himself by not obeying police commands and appearing intent on reaching into a partially open vehicle window.

Defense lawyer Shannon McMurray said Shelby’s response was appropriate given her training and what she perceived as a threat.

“Terence Crutcher made those choices. Bad choices, tragic choices as there is a human being who is no longer here. But that doesn’t mean it is a crime,” McMurray said in closing arguments.

Prosecutors said Shelby recklessly ratcheted up tensions.

“They want you to believe that ‘that was the way I was trained so that makes it OK.’ You can follow your training and be wrong. You can follow your training and commit a crime,” Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray said in closing arguments.

Much of the testimony in the week-long trial had centered around what transpired in the incident and proper police protocol for dealing with such a situation.

Shelby, who denied accusations that race was a factor in her response, put the focus on Crutcher’s actions, saying he appeared to be high on drugs and did not respond to police commands as he approached the partially open vehicle window.

Prosecutors said drug use and ignoring commands are no reason for Shelby, or any officer, to use deadly force against a civilian.

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office said that Crutcher had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his bloodstream at the time of his death, a condition it described as “acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.”

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Dan Grebler and Richard Chang)

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