The family of Terence Crutcher, who was shot and killed last week on a Tulsa highway by a police officer, got some very good news. Prosecutors announced that the police officer who killed him will be arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Tulsa County district attorney Steve Kunzweiler announced the indictment late Thursday afternoon. Watch the press conference here, courtesy KJRH in Tulsa.
Kunzweiler said that, like most of us, he didn’t know “why things happen the way they do.” However, he feels the best way he can “walk my path” is “to serve my fellow citizen so that he or she may be lifted up.” Apparently he felt that the best way he could lift up the Crutchers was to make Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby go before a judge for killing their son.
KJRH obtained a copy of the affidavit submitted by Kunzweiler’s chief investigator, Doug Campbell. Read it here. It sums up what we already know. On September 16, Shelby encountered Crutcher standing near his disabled SUV. Shelby asked Crutcher to show his hands numerous times, but Crutcher kept putting his hands in his pockets. Crutcher then raised his hands and began walking toward his SUV. Shelby drew her gun and followed him. Her partner, Tyler Turnbough, followed close behind with his Taser.
When Crutcher reached inside his driver-side window, Turnbough tried to tase him, but Shelby shot Crutcher in the chest, mortally wounding him. Shelby claimed that she was in fear for her life. However, Campbell, a 25-year police veteran–including 11 years as a detective–didn’t buy it. He concluded that Shelby “reacted unreasonably” and became “emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted (sic).” To his mind, that made Crutcher’s death a criminal act.
Marq Lewis, leader of We the People Oklahoma, told the Tulsa World that the charge of first-degree manslaughter was well beyond what he and his organization were hoping to get. Based on discussions with local attorneys, Lewis had been “looking for man 2 (second-degree manslaughter).” In a colossal understatement, Lewis said that the charge of first-degree manslaughter, or “man 1,” was “even better” than he’d expected.
To understand why Lewis was elated, Shelby faces a minimum of four years in prison if convicted, and a maximum of life. In contrast, second-degree manslaughter carries a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of four years.
There are a lot of reasons to have hope in this case. For one thing, Kunzweiler has already shown he isn’t afraid to hold cops to account. When this story broke, I remembered that Kunzweiler prosecuted Robert Bates, the reserve Tulsa County deputy who killed an unarmed black man when he mistook his pistol for his Taser. Earlier this year, Bates was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. For that reason, I thought it was very likely Shelby would be charged as well. What I didn’t expect was that it came so soon.
It helped that his chief investigator, Campbell, is a former cop himself. Campbell knows how situations like this are supposed to be handled. With this affidavit, Campbell effectively said that Shelby broke every rule in the book.
Under the circumstances, the mere fact that there is about to be an arrest can only be described as a victory. The next step, of course, is ensuring that Shelby is made to answer for killing an unarmed man.
(featured image: screengrab via YouTube)