A white police officer in Tulsa who was shown on video fatally shooting an unarmed black man has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, authorities said on Thursday.
Tulsa District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed a “heat-of-passion” manslaughter charge against officer Betty Shelby, nearly a week after cameras filmed her shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher as he stood beside his stalled SUV.
Shelby “reacted unreasonably” and became “emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted,” the prosecutor’s office said in an affidavit.
She was formally arrested and booked into the Tulsa Jail at 1 a.m. Friday, according to county records. She posted a $50,000 bond and was released from jail 20 minutes after she was booked.
Moments before they captured footage of Crutcher’s death, police cameras recorded the father of four walking toward his car with his hands above his head while several officers followed closely behind with weapons raised. He lingered at his vehicle’s driver’s side window, his body facing the SUV, before slumping to the ground a second later.
“Shots fired!” a female voice can be heard yelling in video footage released Monday, three days after the deadly encounter.
Tulsa police say Crutcher did not have a gun on him or in his vehicle.
The footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the shot that killed Crutcher. Her attorney, Scott Wood, has said Crutcher was not following police commands and that Shelby opened fire when the man began to reach through his window.
Wood told the Tulsa World that Shelby opened fire and that another officer used a stun gun when Crutcher’s “left hand goes through the car window.”
Shelby is one of only a few female officers to be charged in a fatal shooting in the past decade. If convicted, she could face a minimum of four years in prison.
In a statement, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said she hopes the decision “provides some peace” to the Crutcher family and urged people to be patient as the case unfolds.
“No matter how you feel about the prosecutors’ decision in this case, I hope Oklahomans will respect the views of your friends and neighbors because we still have to live peacefully together as we try to make sense of the circumstances that led to Mr. Crutcher’s death,” Fallin said.
The fatal Sept. 16 shooting, already one of the nation’s dominant news stories, gained an even higher profile after police shot and killed a black man in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon, sparking violent protests.
Crutcher and Scott are two of at least 707 people — 164 of them black men — who have been fatally shot by police officers this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking police shootings.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the two shootings — four days and 1,000 miles apart — again laid bare friction between law enforcement officials and the communities they police.
“These tragic incidents have once again left Americans with feelings of sorrow, anger and uncertainty,” Lynch said Wednesday. “They have once again highlighted — in the most vivid and painful terms — the real divisions that still persist in this nation between law enforcement and communities of color.”
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Crutcher’s death.
Shelby thought Crutcher was behaving like someone under the possible influence of the drug phencyclidine (PCP), Wood told the World, noting that Crutcher ignored the officer’s commands to stop reaching into his pockets. Shelby feared Crutcher might have a gun, he said. A police official told the World that PCP was found in Crutcher’s vehicle; an attorney for Crutcher’s family has said reports linking Crutcher to drugs were attempts to “intellectually justify” his death.
“Make no mistake, it was clear from the beginning that charges were necessary in this case. The officer responsible for the death of Terence Crutcher had to be brought to justice to be held accountable for her actions,” Crutcher family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement Thursday. “We remain optimistic that the State Attorney will now do his job, and vigorously prosecute the officer to the fullest extent of the law, bringing some form of justice to the Crutcher family.”
Shelby is a five-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department. Wood, who did not return a request for comment, told the World that Shelby is “very distraught” over the shooting and that she has received death threats.
According to reports, Shelby is married to fellow officer David Shelby, who was in a helicopter that recorded the fatal shooting and was recorded talking with a fellow officer about how they believed Crutcher should be shot with a stun gun. One of them said he looked “like a bad dude.”
“He was my compassionate son,” the slain man’s mother, Leanna Crutcher, said in an interview with CNN. “No one could ever do anything that would turn him away from being their friend. He loved people.”
“That big, bad dude mattered,” his twin sister Tiffany said.
Betty Shelby worked at the Tulsa Sheriff’s Department from June 2007 to November 2011, according to Deputy Justin Green, a department spokesman. Shelby was involved in a use-of-force incident at the department for “firearms presentation,” Green said. Shelby and other officers entered a home with their firearms drawn as they were trying to serve warrants.
According to her 2007 application to the sheriff’s office, Shelby said she had been married twice before and was on track to receive a biology degree from Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow, Okla. She had previously worked as a convenience store manager, teacher assistant and trainee in the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Shelby wrote that she sprained her knee during basic training and that the Guard did not want to “take care of my rehabilitation,” so she was discharged.
On the application, which was obtained by NBC affiliate KJRH, Shelby answered “yes” to questions about whether she had used drugs and whether she had a victim protection order filed against her. Shelby said she had used marijuana twice as an 18-year-old.
In an expanded answer, Shelby wrote that in 1993, she and a boyfriend had an argument where they ended their relationship. She said the boyfriend hit her car with a shovel and that she did the same to his vehicle. The two filed orders against each other and asked a judge to dismiss them, she wrote.
In 2000, Shelby and an ex-husband were in a custody battle that was appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In 2002, she wrote that her ex-husband’s wife filed a protective order against Shelby, alleging she made harassing phone calls. Shelby wrote the order was denied.
In 2004, Shelby spoke at a rally attended by about 6,000 people, including members of Congress and Tulsa’s mayor, that showed support for deployed U.S. troops. David Shelby was stationed overseas with the Army; according to the World he was a reservist who volunteered for duty.
“I knew there was always a possibility he was going to be deployed sometime,” Betty Shelby said at the rally. “He knows this is his duty, and he’s proud to serve his country.”
In a Facebook posting from Aug. 28, Shelby is pictured standing with a black couple and holding a bouquet of flowers. The couple, identified as the Joneses, were robbed, and Shelby found their property and returned it to them.
“Well done, Officer Shelby and thanks to the Joneses for making her day,” the post read.
Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.
This article, originally published on Sept. 22, has been updated.