TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby testified in her own defense Monday, telling jurors in her manslaughter trial that the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist was his own fault and she has “no regrets” about what happened.
Shelby, 43, faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September last year after he walked towards his disabled SUV in the middle of the street.
Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before he was shot. Shelby has insisted that she did so out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside the car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.
On the sixth day of trial, Shelby testified that videos she saw in training indicated that if suspects are allowed to reach into their cars, “they can pull out guns and kill you,” the Tulsa World reported.
“If you hesitate and delay, then you die,” Shelby reportedly told her attorney, Shannon McMurray, of Tulsa. “It impacted me so much that I saw the video in my head during that situation.”
Dressed in a blue shirt and blue blazer, Shelby said she was trained to not “let them pull their arm back out” and that deadly force can be warranted. She said she fired “because I feared for my life.”
“I did everything I could to stop this,” Shelby said Monday. “Crutcher’s death is his fault.”
Shelby testified that she had unholstered her gun “dozens” of times as a police officer and that the suspect always complied. She denied ever firing her weapon before Crutcher’s death.
Shelby said her law enforcement career began in 2007 with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. She joined the Tulsa Police Department in 2011. She described how she became certified as a drug recognition expert in order to be “better at my job.”
Shelby testified that she suspected Crutcher was on PCP, that she could smell it. A medical examiner concluded Crutcher had PCP, also known as angel dust, in his system at the time of his death.
Shelby’s testimony largely mirrored comments she made last month on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in which she denied being a racist and said she never wanted to be in the position to shoot Crutcher. The judge scolded the defense at the time for not heeding his request to not make extrajudicial statements and endanger the jury selection process.
On cross-examination, prosecutors asked Shelby why she did not mention her PCP suspicion when she gave her statement to police.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray expressed doubt over Shelby’s claim that she was unaware a vial of PCP was found in Crutcher’s car until weeks later. He said it was common knowledge among police investigators who worked the crime scene, and that the vial’s existence was made public by his office within days of the shooting.
Shelby testified that she forgot and did not watch the news after the shooting.
Gray disputed Shelby’s claim that she did not have time to unholster her stun gun, saying she had time to pull her actual gun.
Jurors also heard testimony Monday about two previous run-ins Crutcher had with law enforcement. Oklahoma State University Police Officer Jack Robison described a 2012 arrest he made in Tulsa for public intoxication and obstruction. He said Crutcher was “noncompliant” and “defiant,” resulting in a stun gun being used twice.
Prosecutors pointed out on cross-examination how lethal force was not used in that arrest because an unarmed officer and an officer with a rifle were also there.
Tulsa Police Lt. Michael Zenoni testified about an arrest in 1995 where forced was used on Crutcher due to noncompliance with orders.
Shelby’s attorneys have accused prosecutors of hurriedly bringing charges against her out of fear of public backlash due to Shelby being white and Crutcher being black. Defense attorney McMurray elicited groans from the gallery last week when she asked an investigator if a screwdriver found on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.
Several members of the gallery wore purple and green ribbons Monday in support of the Crutcher family. Others wore blue rubber wristbands with the letters ISWB – “I Stand With Betty.”
The defense is expected to call its final witness this week. One juror was dismissed Monday due to illness and an alternate juror was selected as a replacement.