TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The jury that acquitted white Tulsa police Officer Betty Shelby for killing an unarmed black motorist questioned Friday whether she had “other options available to subdue” the man before he reached into his car, implying that she is not “blameless” in his death.
The unidentified jury foreperson submitted a letter entered into the court record “in an effort to placate” members of the media who wish to interview jurors. The foreperson asked for privacy, saying each juror was “adamant about staying as anonymous as possible” after the two week-long trial.
The jury deliberated for nine hours Wednesday before reaching a verdict.
Shelby, 43, faced up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September after he refused to follow her commands and walked toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.
Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before she shot him.
Shelby said she shot him out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside his car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car. The defense said the left-front window was open, while the Crutcher family said the helicopter video showed the window was closed.
The foreperson wrote that it was clear to the jury “after intensely studying the video, still photos and testimony” that the window was open.
“(T)he jury believes from said evidence that Terence Crutcher did in fact reach into the window disobeying the instructions of the police officers on location,” the 3-page letter to Tulsa County Judge Doug Drummond states. “The jury concluded 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, which is in accordance with their law enforcement training.”
The foreperson said the killing was “unfortunate and tragic, but justifiable” due to Crutcher’s actions.
However, the letter added, some jurors believe Shelby had other options to subdue him before he reached into the car.
“What is unclear based on the testimony and the evidence presented in that courtroom, was whether her judgment at that time was in accordance to her training as a police officer in the line of duty or whether her training allowed her to holster her service and draw her Taser instead,” the letter states. “There was no evidence presented that she was acting outside of her training, or even if her training allowed her flexibility of a decision at that point.”
The foreperson said the jury believes Crutcher’s life could have been saved had he been shot with a Taser before he reached into the window, and that that option was available to Shelby. But they could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that she did “anything outside of her duties and training” in that situation.
“This was critical to the verdict rendered,” the letter states. “Because of this perceived option that she may have had, many on the jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death, but due to the lack of direct or even circumstantial evidence that she was acting outside of her training in the thirty feet prior to Mr. Crutcher reaching the window of that SUV, the jury was forced by the rule of law to render a not guilty verdict.”
Shelby blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened. Her attorneys called two police officers to testify about their previous run-ins with Crutcher.
One testified that force was used on Crutcher for not complying with orders in 1995. The other testified that a stun gun was used on Crutcher twice in a 2012 arrest.
Crutcher’s family opposed allowing that testimony, telling reporters that their relative was being put on trial instead of Shelby.
The foreperson said Crutcher’s arrest history and multiple outstanding arrest warrants did not play a role in their deliberations, and that his “guilt in previous incidents were not considered as a means to justify” Shelby’s actions.