TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The estate of unarmed black motorist Terence Crutcher sued white Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby and the city Thursday, claiming he was unnecessarily shot and killed without probable cause during a traffic stop last year.
Estate administrator Austin Bond sued in federal court, alleging Crutcher’s civil rights were violated when he was subjected to excessive force and deprived of his equal protection rights. Shelby, 43, was acquitted last month of first-degree manslaughter.
She is shown on dashboard and helicopter video shooting and killing Crutcher, 40, in September after he had both arms in the air and approached his disabled SUV in the middle of a roadway.
Shelby insisted he did not comply with her commands and feared that he was reaching for a weapon inside the left-front window. She said she believed he was on drugs and a medical examiner later determined he had phencyclidine – PCP or “angel dust” – in his system when he died.
Jurors publicly stated that although they acquitted Shelby, they believe she is not “blameless” in Crutcher’s death and that she had “other options available to subdue” him.
Shelby – who has since been reinstated to the Tulsa police force – has repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened, that she relied on her training.
According to the Thursday’s lawsuit, “For years, the city’s training of TPD officers and its customs, patterns and practices of TPD are known to be deliberately indifferent to ensuring that the constitutional rights of city residents are properly respected and protected.”
Bond acknowledges that police risk their lives every day to uphold the law and that deadly force is sometimes necessary.
“However, the realities of police work in Tulsa, Oklahoma did not constitute cause for Officer Shelby to become Terence’s ‘judge, jury, and executioner,’” the 15-page complaint states. “The dangers police officers generally face also do not provide a license to police officers to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ without properly evaluating the need for such force.”
Bond says Crutcher was “clearly outmanned and virtually surrounded” and was in the process of “peacefully submitting” when he was killed.
“Terence had not committed and was not suspected of committing any serious crime; he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death to Officer Shelby, any other officers on the scene (who were there in sufficient numbers to control the situation), or the general public,” the complaint states. “Terence was never told he was under arrest or warned he would be shot by Officer Shelby.” (Parentheses in original.)
The lawsuit further blames Tulsa for failing to teach officers how to “properly de-escalate encounters” and emphasize deadly force as a last option.
Crutcher’s family has yet to file a civil lawsuit regarding his death. Bond serves as a court-appointed estate administrator, as Frenchel Johnson – the mother of three of Crutcher’s children – and Crutcher’s relatives fight over who controls his estate.
Bond seeks an injunction ordering an independent investigation into the shooting by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.
He also seeks actual damages for violations of Crutcher’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and is represented by M. David Riggs with Riggs Abney in Tulsa.