Former Oklahoma officer who shot unarmed black man will not face civil rights charges

Betty Shelby, shown in 2017, will not face federal civil rights charges in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

The white former Tulsa police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man will not face federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department said Friday, citing insufficient evidence.

U.S. Atty. Trent Shores announced the closure of the investigation into whether Betty Shelby willfully used unreasonable force against Terence Crutcher when she shot and killed him in September 2016.

“The Department of Justice devoted significant resources to this investigation to ensure that a thorough review was undertaken. Attorneys from both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office worked closely with the FBI to examine the evidence and review applicable law,” Shores said in a statement.

A Tulsa County jury acquitted Shelby in May 2017 in the shooting death of Crutcher, who was standing outside his SUV and holding his hands above his head when he was shot. Shelby testified she fired her weapon out of fear because Crutcher didn’t obey her commands and appeared to reach inside his SUV for what she thought was a gun. Crutcher was unarmed.

A man holds a program at the funeral of Terence Crutcher in September 2016.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

“We’re disappointed, but unfortunately we’re not surprised,” said Demario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney for Crutcher’s family. “The No. 1 reason is that the system is set up to protect officers like Betty Shelby. The standard [of proof] is so high, it’s the highest standard in the legal system, to prove that someone willfully and intentionally violated someone else’s civil rights.”

Shelby resigned from the Tulsa Police Department following her acquittal.

A federal lawsuit filed by Crutcher’s family against the city of Tulsa and Shelby is pending.

Shores said a team that included some of the department’s most experienced prosecutors and FBI agents examined the evidence in the case, including enhanced video footage of the shooting.

The investigation aimed to determine whether Shelby willfully violated federal law, which Shores said required prosecutors to determine that Shelby acted with the “deliberate and specific intent” to do something illegal.

“Any allegation of law enforcement misconduct and willful deprivation of civil rights is taken seriously,” Shores said. “However, the evidence in this case did not support pursuing criminal prosecution.”

Crutcher’s killing was among a spate of officer-involved shootings in recent years that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted calls for more police accountability.