Oklahoma cop acquitted in 2016 slaying resigns from force, citing desk job isolation

Jurors reluctantly found Betty Jo Shelby innocent of manslaughter in the killing of Terence Crutcher.

Betty Jo Shelby leaving court in May. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

The Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher last fall will quit the city force in August.

“Since being reinstated, I have found that sitting behind a desk, isolated from all of my fellow officers and the citizens of Tulsa, is just not for me,” Betty Jo Shelby wrote in a Friday statement released by the city’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter.

“I give thanks to all the people in Tulsa, across Oklahoma, in this country, and those around the world who supported me before, during, and since my trial,” she wrote. “As I have stated before, the incident with Terence Crutcher was a tragedy for everyone involved, and I am sorry he lost his life.”

Crutcher’s surviving family members have filed a wrongful death suit against Shelby and the city which is still pending.

Tulsa cop on trial for killing unarmed black man says ‘lynch mob coming after me’

Shelby was acquitted in May on manslaughter charges brought by local prosecutors six days after she shot and killed Crutcher as he stood next to his vehicle on a country road. Multiple cameras captured the killing, their videos showing he had been walking slowly away from Shelby with his hands high above his head in the moments before she shot him.

Shelby’s explanation for her fatal decision was that Crutcher had begun to reach into the driver’s-side window of the parked SUV, prompting her to shoot for fear he was going for a gun. There was no gun on his person or in the car.

Shelby’s trial was unusual for several reasons. It is rare for officers who kill civilians while on duty to see the inside of a courtroom at all. It is rarer still for a prosecutor to file criminal charges so quickly following an on-duty killing — a decision that’s led police union officials to seek a formal ethics board reprimand for prosecutor Steven Kunzweiler.

Putting a cop accused of homicide on ‘60 Minutes’ used to be considered crazy. It might be genius.

Shelby also pioneered a tactic that may yet catch on with other officers facing criminal charges for what they believe was the proper and just discharge of their duties. Weeks before a jury had been selected for her trial, Shelby went on 60 Minutes to discuss the killing at length from her perspective — a choice that allowed her to inject her own voice and narrative into the case without actually taking the stand and facing cross-examination.

After acquitting Shelby, jurors decided to publish an open letter describing their thinking in detail. They agreed with defense attorneys that Crutcher had begun to reach into his car, and that “any officer put in that situation at that exact moment and regardless of the skin color, gender or size of the suspect, would have performed the same way.”

But while the jury’s understanding of what Shelby was required to do according to her training ultimately governed their verdict, “many on the Jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death,” the letter said. Instead, “the Jury was forced by the rule of law to render a not guilty verdict.”

Shelby returned to desk duty with the Tulsa Police Department two days after her acquittal in May. Her resignation is effective August 3. Shelby, who had previously served in the separate Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and whose husband also works in law enforcement in the area, has given no indication of her future career plans.


Oklahoma cop acquitted in 2016 slaying resigns from force, citing desk job isolation was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.