The first week of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby’s manslaughter trial produced a whirlwind of revelations about the chance encounter that left Terence Crutcher dead and the contentious aftermath of the high-profile police shooting.
More than a dozen witnesses were called to testify about what they saw that September evening when Shelby came upon Crutcher and his vehicle stopped in a north Tulsa roadway. Others described the subsequent investigation.
Prosecutors argued that Shelby, who is white, fired her gun out of an irrational fear of the unarmed Crutcher, who was black, and race has been a focal point of the case.
The defense maintained that Shelby had reason to believe that Crutcher, who ignored her commands to stop moving, was reaching for a weapon in his vehicle. They also accused the district attorney of rushing to file charges rather than waiting for police to complete their investigation and submit their findings to his office.
The following is a recap of events through the week.
Monday and Tuesday
A pool of 70 potential jurors was whittled down through questionnaires and questioning by District Judge Doug Drummond and attorneys on the first two days of the trial.
Race played a heavy role in the selection process. Defense attorney Shannon McMurray asked one prospective juror whether she believed that white officers use excessive force against black people; the person responded that each situation is different and should be judged accordingly.
Attorneys for both sides questioned prospective jurors for about an hour before the jury was seated. Nine women and three men made the list. Two of the jurors — both of them women — are black. A black man and a Hispanic woman were chosen as alternate jurors.
In opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray painted Shelby as an overemotional officer who acted on an irrational fear of Crutcher. That fear, he said, also resulted in her failing to help him as he bled to death on the street.
McMurray described Shelby as a law-enforcement veteran who was justified in shooting Crutcher because she had reason to believe he was reaching for a gun. She said Crutcher displayed “erratic” behavior and that Shelby thought he was high on PCP. An autopsy report revealed PCP in his system, and police reported finding a vial containing the drug in his vehicle.
Also in her opening statement, McMurray said it was District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler who acted “unreasonably and in the heat of passion” by rushing to judgment without sufficient evidence, an accusation that has been made repeatedly since Shelby was charged.
The state called six officers who were at the scene either during or shortly after the shooting to testify in the afternoon. Most notable, perhaps, was the testimony of Officer Tyler Turnbough, who was standing next to Shelby when she fired the fatal shot and deployed his Taser almost simultaneously.
Turnbough, who was the first officer to respond to Shelby’s request for backup, told jurors he saw Crutcher walking to his vehicle with his hands raised while Shelby followed him with her gun drawn and shouting commands to stop. He said he deployed his Taser when he saw Crutcher move his left arm into the driver’s-side window and reach down, leading him to believe he was going for a weapon. He said he didn’t know Shelby had fired her gun until after blood seeped through Crutcher’s shirt and he dropped to the pavement.
Michael Richert, the police helicopter pilot who was recorded saying Crutcher looked like a “bad dude” and “could be on something,” testified that he made the comments based on the ‘totality” of the situation. He said he had never seen a suspect whose hands were raised walk away from an officer with a gun drawn.
Richert also told jurors he heard Shelby say later that night that she “couldn’t believe he made me do it,” referring to Crutcher’s ignoring of her commands.
The fourth day of the trial featured a litany of witnesses and testimony ranging from evidence found at the scene to the manner in which the bullet moved through Crutcher’s body.
But the most prominent witness, homicide Sgt. Dave Walker, took the stand last. His line of questioning centered on the interview he conducted with Shelby three days after the deadly encounter. Walker, who headed the investigation of the officer-involved shooting, said Shelby and her attorney Scott Wood met him in his downtown office on Sept. 19. There she watched surveillance footage of the incident for the first time before giving her first official statement.
The lengthy video of Walker’s interview was shown in full to jurors, who watched an emotional Shelby walk the detective through the sequence of events. At one point on the video she can be seen collapsing on the floor as she describes shooting Crutcher because she “thought he was going to kill me.”
Shelby said Crutcher ignored her desperate commands to stop walking to his vehicle and keep his hands visible. Although he mostly kept his hands in the air, she said he moved them into or toward his pockets multiple times. Toward the end of the interview, she began to sob while her attorney comforted her and Walker excused himself to grab a box of tissues. Walker told jurors that Shelby displayed normal human reactions for someone who had just shot someone, although he had not witnessed anyone else in that situation collapse on the floor.
Also on Thursday, Cpl. Wyett Poth, who was the supervisor on the night of the shooting, said he told Shelby afterward to “use her rights” and not say anything until speaking with an attorney. He said he made the recommendation because he knew “there was going to be a certain group of people that didn’t like what happened simply because of the color of somebody’s skin.”
Two Tulsa Community College professors testified that they spoke with Crutcher when he was unable to find a class in which he had enrolled, which turned out to be canceled. The conversation reportedly took place less than an hour before Crutcher was shot. The professors said he didn’t seem to be intoxicated and described him as light-hearted and well-spoken.
Upon his return to the stand in the morning, Walker testified that he felt angry and “disrespected” after learning from media that Shelby was charged before he had completed his investigation. He told the defense during cross-examination that he has never seen the District Attorney’s Office charge someone without consulting a detective.
However, the prosecutor implied that police tried to protect Shelby from being charged by pointing out that Walker showed her the shooting video before their interview. Walker acknowledged that typical shooting suspects are not shown video footage before their interviews.
Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of Terence Crutcher, was the final witness called by state attorneys before they rested their case, and she was the only family member from either side to testify. She spoke briefly about her brother’s appearance in a church photo. She also talked about his insecurity with his prosthetic eye, which had been brought up during prior testimony.
The defense called its first nine witnesses Friday, including Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, who supervised Shelby when he worked at the Tulsa Police Department. Regalado called Shelby an “exceptional officer” on whom he could depend in stressful situations.
McMurray grilled Doug Campbell, the District Attorney’s Office investigator who wrote Shelby’s arrest affidavit, about why he didn’t interview Shelby or other witnesses before submitting his report. She criticized the affidavit’s omission of facts that she said were important to the investigation, such as Shelby’s belief that Crutcher was high on PCP.
The defense’s final three witnesses of the day were a man and two women who had encountered Crutcher as he stood near his vehicle, which was blocking the roadway, shortly before he came into contact with Shelby.
The three said Crutcher was acting odd. The women said he yelled about his SUV being on fire or about to explode, even though it was not. Both called 911 to report the man’s behavior. The man said Crutcher took short steps and walked back and forth, adding that he appeared “zombie-like,” a description also used by Shelby during her interview with Walker. He called his son, who is a Tulsa police officer, the next morning after seeing news of the shooting. The son advised him to call the detective leading the investigation.
Testimony will resume Monday morning. Drummond said he still expects the trial to conclude sometime mid-week.
Kyle Hinchey 918-581-8451