Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who shot Terence Crutcher in September, was found not guilty Wednesday of first-degree manslaughter in the unarmed black man's death.
A jury disagreed with prosecutors that Shelby had used an unreasonable amount of force against Crutcher, who was seen in police video footage walking away from officers with his hands in the air. Jurors deliberated for close to 10 hours, following closing arguments delivered Wednesday morning by the prosecution and the defense.
Shelby, who faced between four years and life in prison if she were convicted, reportedly left the courthouse without addressing TV cameras. Her defense attorneys told the Associated Press that their client was "elated" by the verdict.
"She's ready to get back to her life," Shannon McMurray, lead attorney on the Shelby defense team, told the AP.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Terence Crutcher's twin sister, spoke at the courthouse on behalf of her family, after the verdict was reached. "Terence was not the aggressor. Betty Shelby was the aggressor... Betty Shelby murdered my brother," Tiffany said while flanked by her family's attorneys.
Terence's sister said she felt the trial exposed a level of corruption and an attempted cover-up by the Tulsa Police Department, indicating a need for police reform. "My brother's last statement was, 'God is going to get the glory out of my life.'" Tiffany said. "And I'm going to make sure that I don't rest until we get reform for this police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we change the culture of this corrupt police department."
In a statement released after the verdict, Tulsa County district attorney Steve Kunzweiler commended the jurors for the "courage" they exhibited while carrying out their civic duty. "This case had to be tried by a jury. It was, is and will continue to be a difficult issue to discuss for my community," Kunzweiler said in the statement. "There can be no doubt that the decision rendered by this jury was only after a long and deliberative process."
Shelby shot Crutcher on Sept. 16 after his SUV stalled on a north Tulsa roadway. Shelby told jurors she'd pleaded with Crutcher to keep his hands visible and to stop walking toward his vehicle. But as Crutcher got within inches of the SUV, another Tulsa officer stunned Crutcher with a stun gun. Seconds later, Shelby shot Crutcher because she believed he was reaching for a weapon in his vehicle, she said.
Crutcher's shooting death quickly garnered national attention, in part, because of the way he was described over police radio. An officer in a helicopter, hovering above Shelby and Crutcher, was overheard saying Crutcher "looks like a bad dude" who "could be on something." Shelby and the Tulsa Police Department had been dogged by allegations of implicit bias and racism, since the release of police videos in September.
In an April interview on 60 Minutes, Shelby denied that Crutcher's race played a factor in her decision to shoot him. In the interview and at trial, she blamed Crutcher's death on his actions.
Many within the Tulsa-area law enforcement community were early supporters of Shelby. Ahead of the trial, one area sheriff went as far as declare that all law enforcement was on trial with Shelby. The local police union started a benevolent fund for Shelby and other officers who need financial support amid legal proceedings over alleged misconduct.
On Wednesday night, Jared Lindsey, chairman of the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #93, the police union, said the group took issue with the seeming rush to charge Shelby in Crutcher's death. "We're appreciative that our member is cleared," Lindsey said at the courthouse following the verdict. "This is a sad thing, no matter how you look at it. Ultimately, Tulsa has to figure out how to get their hands around what has come out of here today."
National civil rights leaders blasted the jury's verdict. "We are deeply disappointed that yet another police officer has eluded conviction for killing an unarmed African American," Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. "At this time, our thoughts are also with Mr. Crutcher's family. They've endured the agonizing pain of losing a loved one at the hands of police, a pain that far too many Black families have been forced to confront."
Shelby's case marked one of the rare times that police officers have been charged following fatal shooting of African-Americans, although many indicted officers have also been acquitted of wrongdoing. The case is among a few police-involved shootings caught on video, in the last couple of years, for which officers will face trials in May.
May 18, 2017, 12:34 a.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.