Jurors hearing the manslaughter case against a white Oklahoma police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed black man last year will be asked to decide whether she used appropriate force — a question that’s been put to juries around the U.S. in other similar trials.
Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby is accused of overreacting when she shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher in September. Prosecutors say Crutcher wasn’t armed or combative when Shelby approached him on a street after his SUV broke down and that he obeyed Shelby’s commands to raise his hands. Shelby’s attorneys say she feared for her life, believing he was reaching into his vehicle for a gun.
Crutcher is among at least 20 black people in the U.S. who have died after police encounters in the past several years. The killings have galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement, which called on citizens to demand more accountability from law enforcement.
Shelby, who has been on unpaid leave, faces four years to life in prison if convicted. Her trial starts Monday.
Some key elements of the case:
Shelby came upon Crutcher’s stalled SUV while on her way to a domestic violence call. Police video shows Crutcher walking away from Shelby toward his vehicle with hands above his head. The footage doesn’t offer a clear view of when Shelby shot Crutcher.
Her attorneys say that in the two minutes before cameras began recording the encounter, Shelby repeatedly ordered Crutcher to stop walking away from her and get on the ground. Shelby also said she feared Crutcher was under the influence of PCP, a powerful hallucinogenic known as Angel Dust that makes users erratic, unpredictable and combative.
“Her options went to zero when he turned and put his hand in the car,” defense attorney Shannon McMurray said.
An autopsy showed PCP was in Crutcher’s system, and police said they found a vial of it in his SUV.
Crutcher’s family said police attempted to “demonize” Crutcher over the drug…