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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Tulsa Police Victim|Was High on PCP

TULSA (CN) - A medical examiner Tuesday confirmed that Terence Crutcher, who was black and unarmed, had PCP in his system when he was shot to death by a white Tulsa police officer in September.

The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to Crutcher's chest, and that he had "acute phencyclidine intoxication" when he died.

Angel dust, or PCP, can alter mood states unpredictably and cause paranoia, depersonalization and loss of ego boundaries. The toxicology report also tentatively identified tenocyclidine, a hallucinogen similar to PCP, in Crutcher's system.

Officer Betty Shelby, 42, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter for the Sept. 16 shooting.

Crutcher, 40, is shown in police dashboard and helicopter footage walking toward Shelby's police cruiser in a street where his SUV is disabled. He slowly walks away with both arms in the air as she approaches with her gun drawn.

As Crutcher approaches the driver side of his vehicle, he is hidden from view as the helicopter circles around the passenger side. He then slumps, falls to the ground and is covered in blood after being shot.

Shelby has said she was scared, thought Crutcher was on drugs and shot him after fearing he was reaching for a weapon in the window. No weapon was found.

An investigator for Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler believes Shelby "reacted unreasonably by escalating the situation from a confrontation" to "becoming emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted" when shooting him, according to an affidavit.

The shooting resulted in several weeks of angry but peaceful demonstrations in Tulsa.

Shelby's attorney, Shannon McMurray, answered yes when asked if Shelby feels the PCP justified her fear in pulling her weapon.

"The charges were filed without there being a completed investigation," McMurray said at a news conference Tuesday. "I feel confident, as the investigation unfolds and is released, that Officer Shelby was justified in her use of force."

McMurray said the PCP confirmation by the medical examiner will not change Shelby's defense, calling it one "piece of the puzzle." She noted that the dashboard and helicopter videos show only 90 seconds of Crutcher's encounter with Shelby, who had been on the scene for 90 seconds before the videos start. She described the tenocyclidine, or TCP, as "PCP on crack."

"It is a much more lethal form," the attorney said. "When you combine PCP and TCP, it can be quite dangerous."

The Crutcher family's attorney, Bob Blakemore with Smolen Smolen, said the presence of PCP "is a distraction and is utterly immaterial" to the key issue of whether Shelby was justified in using deadly force on an unarmed man who was not a threat.

"The answer, of course, is 'no,'" he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the use of illicit drugs is common in this country. Those, like Mr. Crutcher, who struggle with addiction should receive treatment, not a bullet in the chest."

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the PCP is "completely irrelevant."

"To say that anyone on that scene could have drawn this conclusion or that such a conclusion would justify lethal force is utterly ridiculous and disingenuous," Kiesel said in a statement. "Drug possession and drug use do not now, nor should they ever, justify summary execution. No doubt there will be those who will seize upon this news to justify the killing of Terence Crutcher."

Kiesel said people who cite PCP to justify Crutcher's killing are dehumanizing him and instilling "genuine fear in the hearts of people of color across our nation."

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